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7 Cooperative Principles

Originally drawn up by Charles Howarth, one of 28 weavers and other artisans who founded the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in Rochdale, England, on December 21, 1844, these principles governing cooperative operations were introduced into the United States in 1874 by the National Grange, and formally written down by the International Cooperative Alliance in 1937 (last updated in 1995).

 Voluntary and Open Membership

Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, 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.

 Democratic Member Control

Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.

 Members’ Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing the cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

 Autonomy and Independence

Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.

 Education, Training, and Information

Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

 Cooperation Among Cooperatives

Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

 Concern for Community

While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.

The seven cooperative principles—which form the basis for every cooperative enterprise in the world today―are underpinned by six cooperative values: Self-Help, Self-Responsibility, Democracy, Equality, Equity, and Solidarity. On top of these, the International Cooperative Alliance also separately lists cooperative “ethical values” of Honesty, Openness, Social Responsibility, and Caring for Others.

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