Co-ops Around the World - Co-op Week


By Nicole Stinson

Photo by sludgegulper.

History has a way of repeating itself. The worldwide movement to embrace co-ops has a definite resemblance to the communal tendencies of ancient civilizations. Hunting, gathering, and early farming processes for primitive societies would have been impossible had it not been for humans using mutual cooperation.

Businesses today are now realizing the value of this ancient practice.

The United Nations declared 2012 the “Year of the Co-op” and growth has since continued. At the end of 2013, the International Co-operative Association announced that it had close to one billion members, with participants anywhere from the United States to Japan to Iran.

Here is a look at some of co-ops around the world.

Block Recording Club–Canada

Owned and operated by musicians, this Toronto-based record label has produced Polaris winner, Final Fantasy, along with many other local names. Bob Wiseman released six albums with BRC. Another notable act is eclectic electro party trio, Kids on TV. Community-spirited, the co-op’s board is elected entirely by members.

“Our goal is to work together as a musical community to help each other to record and release music that we as a community generate,” BRC stated on their website.

The Phone Co-op–United Kingdom

This independent consumer cooperative allows customers to earn money by using their phone and broadband services. Customers have the option of becoming part-owners of The Phone Co-op through an investment–minimum of one British pound–which they can earn interest on. The current rate is over two percent.

Members also share the company’s profits through dividends based on their yearly phone and broadband spending. Further, they are able to vote in board elections, attend AGMs, as well as shape policies through blogging suggestions.

Sweeter Banana–Australia

Representing one of the few cooperatives in the country, Sweeter Banana is owned by over 25 farmers who work on family farms in Western Australia. With a community focus, this group does not use GMO practices or spray chemicals on their bananas, which are distributed to major grocery chains and markets across Australia.

Coop Lombardia–Italy

Born from the post-war economic boom, this retail cooperative in its first budget boasted over $10 billion in profit for their 57,000 members. Dominating the health and pharmaceutical co-op market since their launch in 2006, the Coop Lombardia offshoot, “Health Coop,” broadened with their own drug brand in 2008. They offer affordable products to their members. Participants of the co-op also have access to numerous leisure activities offered by the committee including courses, travel, and tours.

Actively involved in the local community, Coop Lombardia also developed a sticker campaign to raise money for local schools last year. Through this initiative, teachers could purchase educational equipment using the stickers found on the co-op’s products.

Arla Food–Denmark

A European agrarian cooperative, Arla Food is owned by almost 12,300 dairy farmers across Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the UK.

The company is structured around a cooperative democracy where each member receives one vote. Divided into districts, farmers elect their own district council to serve on the Board of Representatives, Arla Food’s top governing body. The co-op representatives make up 169 members of the 179 on the board, whose prime responsibility is the distribution of profits.

According to their “Articles of Association”, any milk producer can become a member who is then eligible to benefit from the distribution of their profits.

Co-op Kopu Kobe–Japan

One of the largest co-ops in the world and owned by over 1 million Japanese members, Co-op Kopu Kobe makes affordable retail products for their local community, from food to electronics. During the 1970s, they took claim as the force that drove the high prices of color televisions across Japan.

Consumers have the option of becoming members for as little as 100 yen and they share in the company’s profits through dividends. They also shape Kopu Kobe’s meetings to focus on functioning and provide insight on products for their 164 stores. The company has also extended to include television broadcast networks.

National Cooperative Housing Union (NACHU)–Kenya

Providing inexpensive and decent housing to low income Kenyans, this organization has over 390 shelters across seven regions. Existing housing cooperatives can join NACHU as members by paying a fee and purchasing refundable shares in the company. This philanthropic co-op has received awards and recognition from the UN and the International Cooperative Association for contributions.

The Co-operative Bank–New Zealand

The only bank in New Zealand that shares profits with it customers, the organization has 34 branches that serve over 128,000 people. Set up in 1928, The Co-operative Bank pursues to transcend the negative banking image. Using their personal accounts, saving accounts, term deposit, and loans automatically makes a customer a part-owner.