Sustainable development cannot be achieved without a healthy global economy that provides everyone with access to quality employment. Stable, well-paid jobs are key to eradicating poverty, particularly for the 767 million people, or 10.7 per cent of the world’s population, who live on less than US$ 1.90 per day. 

Despite the progress, we are still far from reaching Goal 8. Unemployment and temporary employment exclude workers from social dialogue and deny them rights such as job security, income and social protection. 

As indicated in the World Cooperative Monitor, the report published annually by the International Cooperative Alliance with the technical and scientific support of Euricse, cooperative enterprises have demonstrated their ability to create and maintain jobs. At least 12% of the global population is a co-operator or co-operator of one of the world’s 3 million cooperatives. Cooperatives provide jobs or job opportunities to 10% of the employed population, and the three hundred largest cooperatives generate $2,034.98 billion in revenue, while providing the services and infrastructure society needs to thrive.(1) 

As the study shows, Italy confirms itself as a “land of cooperation” with 17 major Italian cooperatives on the list of the top 300 cooperatives, namely: Coop, Conad, Unipol, SACMI, CNS, CMC, Coopservice, Conserve Italia, Cattolica Assicurazioni, Reale Mutua, Agricola Tre Valli, GESCO,CEF, Granlatte, Unione Farmaceutica Novarese, ITAS Group, Banca Popolare di Sondrio. The best position, 28th place, is occupied by Coop

There are three aspects on which cooperation makes, and can make, a fundamental contribution to maintaining decent work and economic growth. (2) In particular: 

Improving the quality of work environment

The actions undertaken, or to be undertaken, concern both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the work. A first consideration related to this goal is the type of work created by the cooperatives: ensuring stable jobs can be a prerequisite for a worker to have lasting economic autonomy over time that allows him or her to plan for the medium to long term. The percentage of employees in 2017 hired on a permanent basis was over 90% for most of the sample of cooperatives analyzed by the Monitor.  

Other aspects of cooperative employment concern decent salary levels and higher participation of workers in the life of the enterprise. Wages are usually defined on the basis – where existing – of national or sectoral contracts and are often supplemented by company benefits that go beyond the salaries negotiated contractually. Although the cases analyzed are limited, wages are gender-neutral and determined on the base of employee’s qualifications and professional experience.

Although the policies implemented by cooperatives tend to ensure gender equality within organisations, steps must be taken to ensure that women have a career path that is no longer influenced by gender bias, especially in top positions. 

Looking outside the enterprise: improving the working and social conditions within the supply chain

The actions promoted by cooperatives have not been limited to creating decent work conditions within the organisation. Attention has in fact been extended to the whole supply chain. On this front, some cooperatives do not act alone but within platforms, forums, and associations that measure the social performance of enterprises and develop practices for a more effective protection of human rights in the workplaces of both the enterprise and supply chain.

In most of the cases analyzed, cooperatives required their suppliers to sign ethical codes, and they periodically evaluated, through audits, the activities of suppliers: some cooperatives among those analyzed explicitly reported the
adoption of codes or rules of conduct that suppliers must sign regarding environmental sustainability, product safety, human rights, and labor protection. Conversely, some cooperatives relied on local or national suppliers. Therefore, they chose not to have their suppliers sign codes of conduct because national laws were considered sufficient in protecting workers’ rights.

Monitoring the supply chain from different points of view, such as the environment, human rights, labor rights, and animal welfare, is of particular concern to agricultural and food-processing cooperatives and consumer and retailer cooperatives, especially if they use suppliers from different areas of the world.

Supporting communities to develop their potential

Creating decent work and sustainable growth does not mean exclusively ensuring decent working conditions within the organisation or in the supply chain. It is also about creating favorable conditions for people to take advantage of their resources and their abilities to create their own economic opportunities.

The training activities of future generations are just an example of the support provided by the cooperatives to the community. In many cases, cooperatives and cooperative associations actively participate in the creation, and support economically, entrepreneurship projects in the communities in which the cooperatives operate. Moreover, there are several initiatives to support nonprofit organisations operating in communities and/or initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship in underdeveloped or developing countries.

We have seen how cooperative enterprises can contribute to the achievement of Goal 8. One of the aspects to be strengthened is certainly communication on sustainability issues. In fact, as the CEO of Euricse points out, speaking precisely about the role of cooperatives in the implementation of the United Nations Agenda for 2030 «Cooperatives must (…) adopt (and communicate) a strategy for sustainable development that represents an effective alternative to the traditional model, capable of responding fully to current challenges. Indeed, the more organisations participate in reporting initiatives that allow the collection of reliable and internationally comparable data, the more research and analysis is required to demonstrate the social and economic impact of cooperatives 


(1) The World Cooperative Monitor 2019 report explores the economic and social impact of the largest cooperatives worldwide, providing a ranking of the Top 300 and a sectoral analysis based on 2017 financial data. Among the sectors analyzed, the insurance sector accounts for 39%, the agri-food sector for 31.7%, large-scale distribution for 17.7%, banking and financial services for 7%, industry and utilities for 1%; health, education and social cooperatives for 1%..

(2) The following considerations are based on the analysis conducted by the report on a sample of cooperatives. For more information and complete data, please consult the World Cooperative Monitor.



World Cooperative Forum