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Working in a Co-operative


The co-operative movement has a long history, but the core values and principles are as relevant today as they have ever been - in May 2017 there were 6,815 co-operatives in the UK, employing 226,000 people with an annual turnover in excess of £35bn (ONS, May 2017). The traditional practices of co-operative enterprises offer a fresh approach for the present day, they offer a model of how sectors of the economy can be reimagined to give people more influence over their work and the companies they work for.  

We like to think of it as an old way in a new world.

So, what is a Co-operative?

The International Co-operative Alliance defines a co-operative as

‘an autonomous association of people united voluntarily to meet

their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations

through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.’


The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives

put their values into practice. The principles are not inscribed in

stone, nor are they rigid rules to be followed; they are the sound

ethical principles to be applied with vision and proportionately according to particularities of each co-operative enterprise. A co-operative is the only form of entrepreneurship organisation with such  an international agreed and recognised definition, values and principles. These principles make a valuable difference.


1. Voluntary and Open Membership

Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services

and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.


2. Democratic Member Control

Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions.

3. Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative.


4. Autonomy and Independence

Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members.


5. Education, Training and Information

Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives.


6. Co-operation among Co-operatives

Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.


7. Concern for Community

Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.


What is special about worker co-operatives?

Worker co-operatives are businesses which are democratically owned and governed by their employees. There are two common characteristics shared by all worker co-operatives:

  • Employee members invest in and own the business together, and

  • Decision making is democratic, so policies cannot be determined by one investor who may have different objectives to the employees of the company. In The Contractor Co-op, this democratic control is exercised by the election of a Board of Directors from the membership, which makes certain governance decisions of behalf of the company. This Board of Directors is subject to rotation annually, both to involve as many members as possible and spread the responsibility.


There are some 500 worker co-operatives in the UK, operating in numerous sectors of the economy from architecture to retail and distribution businesses. Worldwide there is a move to support the growth of worker co-operatives with special laws being passed in Brazil, France and Japan to encourage the co-operative path.

In today’s dynamic marketplace, employee-owned co-operatives can provide employees with business-ownership opportunities offering a wide range of benefits that are hard to combine in any other structure; democratic governance, enhanced job security and profit sharing based directly on personal input.


Next steps:

Should you have any questions, please contact:

Chris Mattingly

Chief Executive

020 3468 0009


Rhys Thomas


020 3468 0009


‘Co-operatives are based upon the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.’


International Co-operative Alliance Website

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