Chapter 1: An overview of the research
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During 2012 the United Nations (UN) celebrated the International Year of Cooperatives. This event reflected the global importance of co-operative enterprises. As noted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: Co-operatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility. (ICA 2012) Although securing data on the size of the co-operative enterprise sector is difficult, research information collected by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) suggests that globally they provide employment for over 100 million people (ICA 2012). A study of the 300 largest co-operative and mutual enterprises undertaken for the ICA indicated that these organisations had a combined annual turnover of US$963 billion (Cronan 2007). These co-operative businesses encompassed a wide range of industry sectors with the heaviest concentrations found in financial services, agriculture, retailing and wholesaling. They were also spread around the world with some of the largest found in Japan, Korea, the United States, France, Germany and the Netherlands. A total of 28 countries were included in the list of top 300 global co-operative and mutual enterprises.

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