With more than a quarter of a million employees across the globe, co-ops are major players in the world of work. Yet there isn’t much solid data to back up the frequently cited notion that co-ops are also among the world’s best employers.
That’s why the International Co-operative Alliance is joining forces with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to sponsor “Co-operatives and the World of Work”, a research conference taking place on 9-10 November 2015 as a prelude to the Alliance’s Global Conference and General Assembly in Antalya, Turkey.
For both the Alliance and the ILO, it’s a partnership that makes sense on many different levels.
“For worker co-ops, there’s a clear link between labour and co-operation: they are about empowering workers and providing meaningful jobs,” said Sonja Novkovic, chair of the Alliance’s Committee on Co-operative Research. “But there is very little research on labour engagement in other types of co-ops; there’s nothing in traditional economic literature that tells us that consumer co-ops, for example, are better employers.”
Simel Esim, who heads the ILO’s Co-operatives Unit, agrees that more research is needed to back up the assertion that co-ops “place more emphasis on job security, the long-term perspective and work quality for employees.”
“It is important to articulate and measure the forms of value that co-operatives produce in leveraging more and better jobs,” she said. “What impact do the ownership structure and the active participation of workers and members in co-operatives have on the productivity of such enterprises? What impact does broadening ownership have on job quality and working conditions? What is the record of co-operatives on labour compliance, for example, elimination of the worst forms of child labour, forced labour and gender-based discrimination?”
The partnership between the Alliance and the ILO also means that the conference will forge stronger links between researchers specialising in co-ops and those specialising in labour issues. The fact that it coincides with the Global Conference and General Assembly means that it could attract not just academics, but also co-op practitioners interested in research. Similarly, academic researchers who don’t usually attend meetings of co-op leaders can remain in Antalya after the conference to observe the General Assembly and join the co-op movement in action.
“Co-operative research really is applied research, and any applied research has to be connected with the real world,” said. Dr. Novkovic. “The research can’t be purely theoretical; it has to make sense to people in the field.”
At the same time, co-op research conferences have traditionally taken place in a university setting, and this one is no exception. The third partner in the conference is Akdeniz University, a major educational and research institution with a strong international focus. The university will be hosting the conference and providing logistical support.
“Co-operatives and the World of Work” will be accepting proposals for panels and presentations until February 15. The conference will also include a Young Scholars Programme, specifically aimed at young or new researchers.
Click here for the Call for Papers and more information about the conference.
Photo: Laborers in bright headscarves pick tea in Darjeeling, India. As members of a co-operative, their earnings are up to 13 times higher than other workers (c) Shutterstock