In Catalonia there are currently 4,130 cooperatives, with 15% of the population linked to one of these companies: 38,000 direct jobs, 42,000 members of service cooperatives, 100,000 farmers linked to farming cooperatives, and about one million members of consumer cooperatives. Businesses in the cooperative economy turn over about €4,000 million per year. These data demonstrate the significance of cooperatives for the economy and for society.
Cooperatives have some special characteristics that situate them half way between non-profit making entities and businesses. They are made up of people who join together in order to carry out economic activities, with the aim of satisfying their social and economic aims and aspirations. As with any other company, they want a benefit or a capital gain from their activity. But they can be differentiated from businesses in the sense that their activities are based on cooperative principles. These principles are the pillars that preserve cooperative values and establish the rules of operation of cooperatives.
One of the fundamental characteristics of cooperatives is that every member has a vote no matter what their level of participation in the company’s share capital is. Cooperatives are democratically administered by their members, who actively participate in policy making and decision making. This means that the members, who are also usually workers, feel more involved and are thus motivated to achieve the objectives that they themselves have set, and to participate in processes of innovation and development of new projects and services.
Cooperatives are open to anyone who can provide their labour, or use the cooperative’s products and services, once they are willing to accept the responsibility of membership. This makes cooperatives more permeable than other types of organisations, allowing them to easily incorporate all those who can collaborate to help achieve their aims. On the other hand, members can request to leave if they no longer participate in the activity that unites the cooperative.
Another characteristic that is often identified in cooperatives is a commitment to education, training and the promotion of cooperative values, as well as a commitment to the community. Cooperatives dedicate a part of their profits to the education and training of its members, workers and other people related to the cooperative so that they can make an effective contribution to the development of the movement. These activities, implemented since the origin of the movement, serve to strengthen the socially responsible character of these businesses.
Recent years have seen an increase in the creation of cooperatives in Catalonia, rising from 133 registrations in 2011 to 147 in 2012. Ninety-one new cooperatives have been constituted up until August of this year. These data show that new cooperatives are still being created, and that this mixed business model which encourages making profit while applying the values of social responsibility, is a model for the present and the future.