Cooperatives constitute a critical part of the world economy. Operating across all sectors of the economy, cooperatives provide 100 million jobs worldwide – 20 percent more than multinational companies, according to the 2011 figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the UN World Food Program (WFP).
To mark the International Day of Cooperatives on July 5, the United Nations has brought into focus the key role that cooperative enterprises can play in economic development, environmental protection and social justice. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message that cooperatives are especially important to agriculture, food security and rural development.
In the finance sector, cooperatives serve over 857 million people, including tens of millions who live in poverty. The size of cooperatives ranges from small-scale to multi-million dollar businesses around the world. In 2008, the top 300 cooperatives in the world together had a turnover of $1.1 trillion, which is comparable to the GDP of many large countries.
A recent study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) said that cooperatives contribute to sustainable development and hold the potential to do much more. The impact of cooperatives can be seen in areas ranging from employment generation to promotion of gender equality to providing clean energy and financial inclusion to ensuring food security and giving social protection.
ILO’s Director-General, Guy Ryder, said that cooperatives respond to the triple bottom line of sustainable development, which consists of economic development, environmental protection and social justice. Cooperatives can reach out to many of the poor and excluded, such as smallholder farmers. Ryder said that cooperatives and mutual are “enterprises of the future” which can effectively complement conventional markets and government.
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