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Co-operation now dominant force in global business ownership

Image of Peter Marks

There are now three times more members of co-operatives than individual shareholders worldwide, according to a new report issued on 12 January to mark the launch of International Year of Co-operatives 2012.

The report, 'Global Business Ownership 2012' reveals that, despite only seven per cent of the world's population living in a country without a stock market, just 328 million individuals are direct shareholders compared with the one billion who are members of a co-operative enterprise.

The figures underline the scale of commitment from consumers and workers to retaining ownership and control of businesses which are dedicated towards  sustainable, long-term success.

In the UK, where the world's first co-operative enterprise started, 14.9 per cent of the population has direct ownership of shares, compared with 21.1 per cent who are owners or members of a co-operative.

More than six million people are members of the Co-operative Group, the UK's biggest mutually owned business which has a turnover of more than £13billion and aims to boost that number to 20 million by 2020.

Ed Mayo, Secretary General, Co-operatives UK and author of the report commented, "In a tough economy, mass ownership is a perfect business strategy because you have your customers and workers onside. The idea of sharing profits with those who are involved in the business is now widely recognised but our research shows that few companies do it as well as the co-operative sector. What is more, in the high growth 'BRIC' economies, co-operative member ownership is now over four times the level of shareholder ownership. Ownership is best shared, not divided."

These global figures are released against a three-year growth in the UK's co-operative economy, which has outperformed the UK's GDP by 21 per cent and has seen an 18 per cent growth in membership between 2008 and 2010.

Peter Marks, Group Chief Executive, The Co-operative Group, has presided over a major renaissance in the Group's fortunes, which has seen it significantly grow its core business in recent years whilst maintaining corporate leadership in ethics and sustainability.

"These figures are testament to the fundamental appeal of the co-operative principles which combine commercial ideals with social enterprise and support," he commented. "Co-operation is working for millions of people across the globe and our membership is growing every day."

The report also showed that

  • In the rest of Europe, three countries have over half of the population in co-operative membership - Ireland (70per cent), Finland (60 per cent) and Austria (59 per cent).
  • Among the fastest growing BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) there are four times as many co-operative members as direct shareholders with 15per cent of their collective populations being co-operative members compared to 3.8 per cent being independent shareholders.
  • Across Asia and the Americas, the countries with the highest proportions of populations in co-operative ownership are India (242million) China (160million) and the USA (120million). One in five people across the Americas, north and south, are members of a co-operative. In Africa, one in thirteen people are members of a co-operative, a figure six times higher than the number of shareholders.

Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) comments, "The co-operative business model is not business as usual. Co-operatives are people based enterprises and have a proven track record at local community level and at global level. The largest 300 co-operatives in the world are together worth $1.6trillion and compete in some of the world's most competitive markets. However, the reality of the co-operative model is that shared ownership and shared control combine to allow financial success to work comfortably with social responsibility, with the principle of 'one member, one vote', ethical values and with the participation and engagement of their one billion owner members. In the words of the UN, together co-operatives help to build a better world." 

For more information on United Nations 2012 International Year of Co-operatives visit the ICA at www.2012.coop or the United Nations at http://social.un.org/coopsyear.

Co-operatives UK
the Co-operative Group