1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/05/2012   
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International Year of Co-operatives


This article was contributed by New South Wales Fair Trading, Department of Finance and Services.

The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) defines a co-operative as “... an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations, through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise ...”.

The ICA reports that over one billion people are members of co-operatives worldwide and that those co-operatives provide over 100 million jobs around the world. This compares to 328 million people who own shares traded on stock markets (Co-operatives UK, 2012). The largest 300 co-operatives in the world are together worth 1.6 trillion US dollars, equivalent to the GDP of the ninth largest economy in the world: Spain.

Large segments of the populations of some countries are members of co-operatives and they contribute significantly to national economies, either through direct employment or economic activity. <Endnote 1>

For example, ICA statistics <Endnote 2> show the following:

a) National co-operative membership

    • Around 40% of Canadians are members of at least one co-operative.
    • Finland’s S-Group’s membership represents over 60% of Finnish households.
    • Almost 40% of the French population are members of one or more co-operatives; three-quarters of all French agricultural producers are members of at least one co-operative and one-third of French people are members of a co-operative bank.
    • In India, over 239 million people are members of a co-operative.
    • In New Zealand, 40% of the adult population are members of co-operatives and mutuals.
    • Half of the Singaporean population are members of a co-operative.

b) Employment in co-operatives
    • In France, 21,000 co-operatives provide over 1 million jobs representing 3.5% of the active working population.
    • In Germany, 8,106 co-operatives provide jobs for 440,000 people.
    • In Iran, co-operatives have created and maintain 1.5 million jobs.
    • In Italy, 70,400 co-operatives employed nearly 1 million people in 2005.
    • In Spain, co-operatives provided jobs to 22% of the labour market in 2007.
    • In the United States of America, 30,000 co-operatives provide more than 2 million jobs.

c) Co-operative economic activity
    • Canadian maple sugar co-operatives produce 35% of the world’s maple sugar production.
    • In France, the co-operative movement has a turnover of 181 billion Euros. Co-operatives handle 60% of retail banking, 40% of food and agricultural production and 25% of retail sales.
    • In Japan, agricultural co-operatives report outputs of US$90 billion, with 91% of all Japanese farmers in membership.
    • In New Zealand, 3% of gross domestic product is generated by co-operative enterprises, which are responsible for 95% of the dairy market (and 95% of the export dairy market). Co-operatives hold 70% of the meat market, 60% of the farm supply market, 80% of the fertiliser market, 75% of wholesale pharmaceuticals, and 67% of the grocery market.
    • The 30,000 co-operatives in the United States of America operate 73,000 places of business and own over US$3 trillion in assets, generating over US$500 billion in revenue.


All co-operatives remain people-centred organisations that are owned, controlled and used by their members to benefit members. Co-operatives generally follow the seven co-operative principles shown in figure 2 at the start of this article.

In Australia, a co-operative is an entity based on sharing, democracy and delegation for the benefit of all its members. A general co-operative, in a legal sense, can be currently defined as “... any organisation that is incorporated as a co-operative under state or territory legislation”.<Endnote 3> However, from 2012, the incoming Co-operatives National Law will replace the separate state and territory legislation with a single national law.

Similarly, international co-operatives are business enterprises where ownership, control and benefits remain in the hands of the co-operative members, <Endnote 4> although the legal entities can vary from country to country.<Endnote 5>

  1. International Co-operative Alliance. <Back>
  2. International Co-operative Alliance. <Back>
  3. Our Community. <Back>
  4. International Co-operative Alliance. <Back>
  5. Source: Wikipedia, Cooperatives as legal entities. <Back>


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Statistics contained in the Year Book are the most recent available at the time of preparation. In many cases, the ABS website and the websites of other organisations provide access to more recent data. Each Year Book table or graph and the bibliography at the end of each chapter provides hyperlinks to the most up to date data release where available.