Cooperatives — member-driven business enterprises that put people front and centre — offered a viable and vibrant alternative economic model, General Assembly delegates said this afternoon, as the United Nations launched the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives.
Opening the special plenary session, Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz al‑Nasser, said that enterprises organized around cooperative principles — self‑help, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity — reduced poverty, created jobs and promoted social integration, and did so with a firm belief in the ethical values of openness, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others. Cooperatives offered a member‑owned model of economic organization that reconciled the logic of a market economy with imperatives of social inclusion and ownership, particularly relevant in the aftermath of the global economic and financial crisis.
In the same vein, Deputy Secretary‑General Asha‑Rose Migiro said that there were increasing demands for change in the ways we live and work — for choices and values that were sustainable, responsible and inclusive. In confronting those challenges, strength could be drawn from the cooperative spirit, which balanced economic viability with social responsibility. The International Year of Cooperatives provided an opportunity to raise public awareness of cooperatives, to promote their formation and encourage governments to establish policies conducive to their growth. It was also an opportunity to underscore the importance of cooperative values, including sustainability, solidarity and inclusiveness.
Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, said that it was important to remember that mutual dependence was an increasing feature of modern life, but added: “We must do more than simply talk about our interdependence”. It was not “anti‑wealth” to say that “wealth must do more than serve the wealthy”; it was not anti‑competition to say that, without cooperation, competition might not lift us up, but pull us down. The nearly 1 billion people driving the worldwide cooperative movement had proved that the human principle of cooperation could make for a better economy.
Similarly, Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Cooperative Alliance, said that those enterprises contributed directly to improving the standards of living of half the world’s population. Indeed, cooperatives had “lifted millions out of poverty with dignity”, and had proven that such enterprises could compete effectively — and even thrive — in the marketplace with other forms of business. Nearly 1 billion people owned shares in cooperatives worldwide. The top 300 cooperatives around the world were worth an estimated $1.6 trillion, she said, and they operated in some of the most competitive industries in the world. However, there was a need to raise awareness of the significance of cooperatives.
“More people in decision‑making positions […] should know about the size, scale and scope” of the cooperative business model, and should acknowledge it in public policy and regulation. Cooperatives were “values‑led” businesses, and should be given equal promotion alongside the stockholder model. Further, cooperatives were “people‑led”, and led in particular by young people, similar to those presently seeking a voice in North Africa, on Wall Street and across the world. She hoped that, after the International Year ended on 31 October 2012, a pivot would be seen from a successful year to a successful decade of international cooperative growth.
The Assembly kicked of its events to mark the launch of the International Year in the morning with an opening session and an informal round table discussion on “Cooperative enterprises build a better world: Contributions to sustainable development.”
In his remarks, Sha Zukang, Under‑Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary‑General of Rio+20, the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, stressed the United Nations aimed to strengthen integration and balance among the social, economic and environmental pillar of development. “Cooperatives are one such way to achieve this goal,” he said.
For his part, Jean‑Francis R. Zinsou, of Benin, Vice‑President of the General Assembly, said that the aim of promoting cooperatives was not to replace corporations. Their goal was profit, but they did not always share the prosperity. In that context, it was important to note that the International Year was being launched amid social protest over the excessive concentration of resources for the benefit of the minority. He also made closing remarks at the afternoon plenary.
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