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On 5 July 2018, the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) welcomed cooperators, UN officials and government representatives to the celebration of the 2018 International Day of Cooperatives (IDC) at the United Nations.
The goal of the event was to discuss how cooperatives achieve sustainable consumption and production – the theme of the 2018 IDC – and to explore ways in which the UN system and governments can further support cooperatives as development actors and as key partners in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Opening the event was His Excellency Mr. Alejandro Verdier, Deputy Permanent Representative of Argentina to the United Nations. Ambassador Verdier discussed how cooperatives are contributing to the main development priorities in Argentina: the future of work, infrastructure and sustainable food systems.
Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development in the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), emphasized the cooperative difference. She talked about the resilience of cooperatives in times of crisis and change, how sustainability is in the DNA of cooperatives and the fact that cooperatives have the well-being of people at their heart.
Vinicius Carvalho Pinheiro, Special Representative to the United Nations and Director of the International Labour Organization Office for the United Nations, represented the ILO as Chair of COPAC and moderated the event. In his opening remarks, he shared with participants how cooperatives contribute to decent work and sustainable consumption and production, citing examples from forestry and waste-picker cooperatives.
Following the welcoming remarks, a panel of speakers gave examples of how cooperatives make real progress towards the SDGs.
To kick off the panel, Carla Mucavi, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Liaison Office in New York, described how cooperatives improve food systems, food security and strong rural communities.
Chiara Faenza, Responsible for Sustainability and Values Innovation in the Quality Department of Coop Italia, detailed how Coop Italia – Italy’s largest retailer – makes significant contributions to SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production). Coop Italy makes its own green products with a particular ecological benefit (organic, Ecolabel, certified supply chains, etc.); invests in efforts to reduce packaging, recycle materials and make it more environmentally friendly; build a more sustainable supply chain; engage in responsible sourcing; promote activities to tackle waste; and educate consumers on sustainable living through awareness campaigns and educational activities. See her presentation here.
John Torres, Vice President of Communications and Public Relations for NCBA CLUSA, shared how the organization is building an inclusive economy around the world through its 39 development projects in 20 countries. NCBA CLUSA works to build resilient communities, promote economic opportunities and strengthen cooperatives and producer groups. See his presentation here.
Gabriela Buffa, the Youth Committee Representative of Cooperar in Argentina, presented the case of the Saladillo Mill, a worker cooperative that was established when the former workers of a bankrupt mill bought the company and turned it into a cooperative to save their jobs. In addition to securing the livelihoods of its members, the Saladillo Mill also produces in an environmentally responsible way. In the words of Ms. Buffa, “It is fair and necessary to produce and consume in a democratic and sustainable manner.” See her presentation here.
Georgia Papoutsi, Policy Coordinator for the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), discussed how the ICA is engaged in a partnership with the European Union to support cooperatives in development. Through the partnership, the ICA is working to increase recognition of cooperatives as key development actors in the 2030 Agenda and monitoring the contributions of cooperatives to the SDGs through its Co-ops for 2030 platform. See her presentation here.
His Excellency Mr. Sukhbold Sukhee, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Mongolia to the UN, closed the panel by emphasizing the importance of governments providing enabling legal frameworks to help cooperatives access resources and thrive. Legal structures should be conducive to the creation and growth of cooperatives. The Mongolian Mission has been a long-time champion and advocate of the cooperative movement, and spearheaded the action plan for cooperatives recently approved by the UN.
An open and interactive discussion followed the panel presentations. The Permanent Mission of Germany shared the importance of cooperatives in Germany. His Excellency Philip Ochen Odida, Deputy Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations, talked about how political change had caused the cooperative movement to dwindle but expressed interest in exploring how to help Uganda revive its cooperative economy.
Her Excellency Kira D. Azucena, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Philippines focused on the special role of cooperatives in post-conflict situations. She shared the example of how the crisis in Marawi caused the displacement of 300,000 people, and cooperatives were rehabilitated with livelihood trainings and assistance to establish a sustainable community there. Cooperatives are an important pillar in economic growth and social participation and can use the assistance of government to increase their impact.
Dr. Olney Daly, Minister-Counseller of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, discussed the revival of the cooperative movement in her country, and how it is a critical sector in development. She cited the importance of data in demonstrating the contributions of cooperatives to sustainable development.
Wenyan Yang, Chief of the Global Dialogue for Social Development Branch within UN DESA, shared another example how cooperatives can assist in post-conflict situations: the cooperatives that provided food and shelter after the nuclear disaster in the Fukushima prefecture of Japan. She added that COPAC is contributing to improving the quality and accessibility of data on cooperatives by leading an initiative to draft guidelines on cooperative statistics. These guidelines will be presented at the International Conference of Labour Statisticians in October 2018, and will be considered and hopefully endorsed by governments and stakeholders.
His Excellency Mr. Omar Castañeda Solares, Deputy Permanent Representative of Guatemala, highlighted that cooperatives are instrumental in not only economic growth, but also economic sustainability, especially in rural areas. He noted the linkages between the issues of remittances and migrants with cooperatives.
The panelists responded to these comments from the floor. Georgia Papoutsi supported the role of cooperatives in post-conflict situations and noted that cooperatives are adept at mobilizing local resources, with the help of government, to help communities grow. She invited the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to participate in a young cooperators event at the end of August.
Gabriela Buffa shared the challenges for young people to start cooperatives without financial and technical assistance. She emphasized the importance of education to inform young people about the cooperative option and call on all participants to support the global cooperative youth network.
John Torres echoed the importance of education and announced that NCBA CLUSA was working with colleges and universities to integrate cooperatives into the curriculum of business schools. He said that a Cooperative Leaders and Scholars Institute would take place in Washington, DC in October 2018 in support of this goal.
Chiara Faenza noted that cooperatives could further support the ideas of decent work, ethical labour and workers’ rights along the supply chain to add value to their products and activities. She recognized the importance of education and networking among all stakeholders, institutions and consumers.
Carla Mucavi said that the FAO would support the strengthening of the cooperative movement, particularly in the agriculture sector. She urged the necessity of partnerships with governments and south-south cooperation.
Ambassador Sukhee encouraged governments to focus on creating enabling legal environments for cooperatives, particularly in relation to taxation, to support the unique identity and contribution of cooperatives to sustainable development.
To close the event, Ariel Guarco, President of the International Co-operative Alliance, shared some compelling examples of cooperatives contributing to sustainable societies. He discussed a fishing cooperative off the California peninsula of Mexico that runs a strong business while protecting the local reefs. He concluded by stating the cooperative movement’s commitment to sustainability and to the 2030 Agenda.