Interview with COPAC Board Member Bruno Roelants on statistics of cooperatives

The ILO has joined forces with other members of the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) to improve statistics on cooperatives. They are working towards developing guidelines on the measurement of cooperatives to be presented at the 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) in October 2018. ILO COOP interviewed Mr Bruno Roelants, COPAC Board Member as Director-General of the International Alliance of Cooperatives (ICA), on statistics of cooperatives.

Actualité | 23 avril 2018

1. Could you tell us briefly about yourself?

Mr Bruno Roelants
During the first half of my professional life, I dedicated myself mainly to international development cooperation, and it is from that angle that I discovered cooperatives and gradually worked with, and then within the cooperative movement, in which I now have around 30 years of experience, in particular in China, India, Latin America and Europe. Although I have worked predominantly with industrial and service cooperatives, especially as secretary general of CICOPA from 2002 till two months ago, I have also worked with other cooperative sectors such as banking and retail (consumers), in particular by working on the issue of cooperative groups.

2. How have you gotten involved in statistics on cooperatives?

This involvement is related with my previous job at CICOPA, where since around 2004 I have tried to put together the various pieces of the statistics puzzle, first alone, then with the help of my colleagues, and in particular Hyungsik Eum. The cooperative sector covered by CICOPA is by far the most complex in terms of statistics, first because the number of economic activities listed down in the UN classification ISIC covered by CICOPA is substantially higher than in any other cooperative sector, and secondly because of the variety of cooperative typologies covered by CICOPA (worker cooperatives, social cooperatives, freelancers’ cooperatives, community cooperatives, etc.), which is also higher than in other cooperative sectors. Then the International Summit of Cooperatives commissioned to CICOPA a 15-month study on cooperative employment in the world and in all sectors, which we presented in 2014 in Quebec in the presence of then ILO Deputy DG Sandra Polaski. The study allowed me to understand better the stakes involved in statistics on cooperatives, as well as the scale of the employed population which cooperatives covered.

3. Why do you think statistics on cooperatives are needed?

Because without statistics it is impossible to have a precise picture of what cooperatives represent in the world, economically and socially, and thus their socio-economic impact, and that having such information provides a much higher leverage on any advocacy work regarding public policies on cooperatives. This potential multiplies itself when it becomes possible to have statistics over a given period of time and thus to carry out diachronic analysis which can indicate the overall trends. A concrete application of this is related to the SDGs and their indicators.

4. What is the work that you have been doing in this Technical Working Group (TWG)?

I have not been directly involved in the TWG but I have followed up its work closely through my regular meetings with Hyungsik Eum from CICOPA, who is part of the TWG.

5. What are the challenges to statistics on cooperatives?

At the national level, the main challenge is for national statistical organizations to understand the importance of measuring cooperatives. At the international level, the main challenge is to reach a common conceptual framework and common standards, to be applied both in international organizations such as the ILO, and within the cooperative movement.

6. Who are the target audiences for the work of the Technical Working Group?

Mainly policy makers at national and international levels, but also the research and teaching community, large global actors such as the trade unions, employers’ organizations, NGOs, and, last but not least, the cooperative movement itself.

7. What do you hope this work to achieve?

This work will hopefully lead to the guidelines to be approved by the International Conference of Labour Statisticians in October of this year and, thereafter, to be taken into account by the statistical institutes of as many countries as possible.