Andrew Bibby



Andrew Bibby is a professional writer and journalist, working as an independent consultant for a number of international and national organisations, and as a regular contributor to British national newspapers and magazines. He is also the author of a number of books.

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How the ILO is promoting the Promotion of Co-operatives Recommendation

This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in the World of Work magazine, 2005

The adoption of new ILO Conventions and Recommendations, made by the International Labour Conference at its annual meetings, typically follows on from many months and years of preparatory work and debate. But in many respects the formal adoption of a new ILO instrument is not the end of a process, but rather the starting point. This is when the practical work begins, of ensuring that words on paper are translated into action.

Take ILO Recommendation 193, for example. This document, The Promotion of Co-operatives, is the first time for almost forty years that the International Labour Conference has directly addressed the role of co-operatives in the world of work, a sector which collectively is far more significant in employment terms than all multinational corporations taken together. The new Recommendation (adopted in 2002) defines co-ops as autonomous organisations of people “united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise” and sets a framework within which governments and social partners are encouraged to work to promote co-op development.

Co-ops have a potentially important part to play in the development of decent work, a role which the ILO's Director-General Juan Somavia himself highlighted recently. “Guided by human and social values, they draw on collective strength to promote the well-being of members, their families and their communities. They are important advocates for a globalisation which recognises and respects the rights, aspirations, needs and identity of people,” he said.

To work closely with international and national co-op organisations the ILO has its own Co-operative Branch (COOP), which was actively engaged in the preparatory work behind Recommendation 193. But having seen the Recommendation adopted, how could the opportunity which it represented best be grasped? How, in other words, could The Promotion of Co-operatives be taken out from the ILO's home in Geneva and become a tool of practical use around the world?

Jürgen Schwettmann, Chief of the Co-operative Branch, describes how he and his colleagues set to work, firstly arranging for the text itself to be translated into over thirty languages, from Arabic to Vietnamese. These documents were then used as the basis for a series of briefing meetings and conferences, many arranged in partnership with the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) and other international and national co-op organisations. Ten global events, twenty-five regional meetings were held and thirty-four national conferences were arranged and the ILO also arranged to brief other UN and international agencies, including the FAO, World Bank and UNDP. Promotional materials, including wall calendars and a CDROM, were produced.

So far, so good. But what was really needed, according to Jürgen Schwettmann, was a resource which helped spell out how the Recommendation could be used by partner agencies and by ILO's own field staff to bring about concrete improvements at the policy, legal, institutional and managerial levels.

Since last year [2004], ILO COOP has a tool to assist. The English version of a new sixty-page guidance and training pack Promoting Co-operatives: A guide to ILO Recommendation 193 was launched in July, and work is now getting underway to produce companion French and Spanish language versions.

The pack, according to its author Stirling Smith, is designed for two audiences. One group is made up of the ILO's social partners, including ministries of labour, employers' and workers' organisations who may be familiar with the ILO but may not know very much about co-ops. The other group are co-operators (members of co-ops) who by contrast may not know very much about the ILO and its system of Conventions and Recommendations.

The pack is not afraid to spell out, therefore, the background to the new Recommendation. It explains among other things the origins of the ILO, its role in the UN family of agencies, and its unique tripartite structure. It describes the way in which ILO Conventions and Recommendations are drawn up and adopted, and explains the way in which Conventions are ratified. It also describes the particular history of Recommendation 193, tracing it back to an ILO governing body decision in 1999, and also pointing out that it replaces an earlier ILO Recommendation first adopted in 1966.

In a similar way, the pack explains the nature of today's co-operative movement, tracing its roots in early nineteenth-century Europe and spelling out the set of principles, known as the Statement on Co-operative Identity, which has been developed by the International Co-operative Alliance and which is accepted today by co-ops worldwide. The role which co-ops can play in meeting the UN's Millennium Development Goals is discussed as well.

Also included in the pack is a detailed activity, designed for small groups to undertake, by which the standards in Recommendation 193 can be compared directly with current co-op legislation. This, according to Pauline Green, president of ICA Europe, is a key area where the Recommendation can assist. “It is vitally important that the legislative framework is improved to give co-operatives a level playing field with other forms of business. The new guide will be a tremendous help to co-operative organisations in getting their legal framework reviewed,” she says.

The Promoting Co-operatives: A guide to ILO Recommendation 193 pack is the result of a three-way partnership, between the ILO, the ICA and the Co-operative College in the UK , with the funding for the work provided by the UK government's Department for International Development. Since publication it has been used at several meetings and events, including a training course on Co-operative Policy and Legislation held at the ILO's international training centre in Turin from 18-29 October last year where eleven countries from Bolivia to Sri Lanka were represented. The guide can be ordered by sending an email to .


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