3. What is a cooperative? 3.1 THE IDENTIFYING FEATURES OF THE COOPERATIVE ENTERPRISE Today two definitions of cooperative enterprise are current. The most widely used is that of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), a non-governmental organization grouping about 230 associations of cooperatives in a hundred countries. Formed in 1895, ICA is the chief moral custodian of the cooperative identity. Its 1995 Co-operative Identity Statement issued in Manchester (after predecessor documents in 1937 and 1966) reads: ‘A co-operative is 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 Congress of Manchester laid down seven principles for cooperatives. The last is new, but the first six were the same ones – slightly reworded – that the original Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers had adopted in 1844. That the fundamental principles have remained unchanged for over a century and a half is remarkable in itself. Let us now review them. 1. Voluntary and open membership. Cooperatives are voluntary organizations and enterprises, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination. This is known in the movement as the ‘open door’ principle. Democratic member control. Unlike capitalist firms, in which shareholder votes are weighted, not counted, both in primary cooperatives and at other levels the cooperative movement adopts the rule ‘one member, one vote’. That is, in general or at board meetings all members...
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