ILO Director-General Guy Ryder took the time to share with us his vision for continued partnerships between ILO and the cooperative movement leading up to Congress. He also extended the call for stronger collaboration in 2022, starting with the 110th International Labor Conference, where cooperatives and the social solidarity economy will play leading roles, signalling a global recognition of their value within the world of work.

The ILO’s first director general, Albert Thomas was involved in the cooperative movement in France. The ILO is also the only UN organisation with an explicit mandate on cooperatives. Why is the relationship between ICA and ILO important?

There are strong and historic links that bind the ILO and the global cooperative movement. Cooperatives are an important partner of the ILO in achieving a decent, “human-centred” work agenda for a fair, secure and inclusive future of work. The first ILO Director, Albert Thomas, came from the cooperative movement himself. Recognizing the importance of cooperatives, he established a Cooperative Service in the ILO in 1920. And co-operators are mentioned in Article 12 of the constitution of the ILO.

As the representative of cooperatives worldwide the International Cooperative Alliance holds a general consultative status at the ILO. Cooperatives offer a resilient, democratic and sustainable model of doing business in all sectors of the economy. The ILO’s Recommendation No. 193 on the Promotion of Co-operatives, adopted in 2002 with support from the international cooperative movement, provides a very solid basis for national policies on cooperatives.

Our partnership and collaboration with the cooperative movement are strong. It takes the form of a wide range of cooperation around policy, research, capacity building initiatives and development cooperation projects across countries and regions around the world. Our MoU signed in June 2019 demonstrates the commitment of our two organizations to work towards a human-centred agenda for the future of work with full engagement of the cooperative movement in the years to come.

Last year the ILO’s Coop Unit celebrated its centenary anniversary. How can cooperatives support the ILO’s agenda around the future of work?

There are major forces transforming the world of work, from the unfolding global COVID19 pandemic, the onward march of technology and the impact of climate change to the changing character of demographics, production, and employment.

Cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy are emerging with viable and sustainable responses to these changes, from renewable energy and platform cooperatives to social care and worker buy-outs. They have a unique opportunity to make an impact, given the growing global quest for new forms of business and growth models.

They are therefore an integral part of the solutions that we envision as we confront the enormous challenges of building a human-centred future of work, one that is fairer and greener, and one that serves people and planet together. If we are truly committed to realizing the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development then cooperatives need to continue to be the crucial actors that they have always been.

I hope that the cooperative movement will engage actively at the 110th Session of the International Labour Conference in 2022 where a general discussion on the Social and Solidarity Economy for a human-centred future of work will be held. Cooperatives and mutuals are the biggest building blocks of the social and solidarity economy. They are not only operating in traditional sectors but emerging in new sectors and addressing new challenges. They are the best established in most countries of the world with sectoral diversity and benefit generally from specific legislation and support institutions.

At the ILO we also look forward to collaborating with the ICA and other members of the Committee for the Advancement and Promotion of Cooperatives for operationalizing the international guidelines concerning statistics of cooperatives adopted at the 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians in 2018.

COVID-19 is impacting the world of work across the regions. How can cooperative values and principles make a strong positive impact on ILO’s efforts to rebuild a just economy and society for all?

The 2021 International Labour Conference adopted a Global Call to Action outlining measures to create a human-centred recovery from the pandemic and avoid the long-term scarring of economies and societies.  The call to action commits countries to ensure that their economic and social recovery from the crisis is “fully inclusive, sustainable and resilient.” It includes two sets of agreed actions. The first covers measures to be taken by national governments and their employer and trade union ‘social partners’, to achieve a job-rich recovery that substantially strengthens worker and social protections and supports sustainable enterprises. A second set of actions covers international cooperation and the role of multilateral institutions, including the ILO, with the aim of increasing the level and coherence of their support for national “human-centred” pandemic recovery strategies.

Creating a recovery that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient must become a top priority for public policy. This resolution provides a clear and comprehensive way forward that will enable countries to convert the moral and political aspiration of leaving no one behind into concrete action. The effectiveness and resilience of the recovery from COVID-19  will depend heavily on how broadly-based and socially inclusive it is. Unless we specifically address the inequalities that have deepened during this crisis there is a very real risk that the economic and social consequences will cause long-term scarring, particularly for disproportionately affected groups such as young people and women, and the small and microenterprises that provide most of the world’s employment.

The Global Call to Action highlights the importance of values of cooperation and solidarity. It makes a specific reference to the social and solidarity economy where cooperatives are the most significant players. Historically, the values of mutualism, self-help and solidarity see a surge of interest during times of crisis. Around the pandemic cooperatives, and other social and solidarity economy institutions have stepped up to support their members and communities.

During the emergency response to the crises around the COVID19 pandemic policy makers around the world have recognized the role that cooperatives and wider social and solidarity economy organizations play as social actors and partners. In moving forward beyond the pandemic, it will be important that cooperatives be recognized as economic actors that need to benefit from the financial stimulus packages. Moreover, they need to be considered as critical partners for the longer term in building more resilient communities and strengthening local economies. The cooperative movement can play a role in contributing to the realization of the commitments made in the Global Call for Action in collaboration with national governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations.

Digital platforms have emerged as a new trend in the world of work. Platform cooperatives as member-owned businesses apply democratic ownership and control of digital platforms, therefore ensuring platform worker rights. How can the cooperative values and principles be applied in the digital economy and what is the role that ICA could play on this?

The contemporary platform economy is transforming the way work is organized. The 2021 edition of the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook report on “The role of digital labour platforms in transforming the world of work” analyzes the impact of digital labour platforms on enterprises, workers and society as a whole. The report offers a comprehensive picture of the experience of workers and businesses on online web-based and location-based platforms.

Cooperatives are among the new strategies being deployed by self-employed workers to assert their rights to decent work and a fair share of economic gains in the value networks of the emerging platform economy. At the ILO we are following closely these emerging organizing practices and business models in the digital economy. A recent report from the ILO on “Platform labour in search of value: A study of workers’ organizing practices and business models in the digital economy” focuses on the experiences of workers in on-demand work, crowdsourcing and e-commerce sectors.

The cooperative movement can play a key role in informing workers in the platform economy of their options and providing them with the tools to utilize the cooperative model. They can partner with ILO constituents in advancing cooperatives as a viable option for workers in the platform economy.

At Congress, attendees will discuss ways we can examine, strengthen, live and tell the world about our cooperative identity – we hope this will launch more meaningful discussions in the future. What do you envisage as an outcome from the Congress in strengthening further the role of cooperatives as social and economic actors?

I envisage that as a result of your discussions at the upcoming World Cooperative Congress you will deepen and expand the cooperative identity by examining its values, strengthening its actions, committing to its principles and taking stock of its achievements. I imagine that the cooperative movement will come out of this Congress with a renewed sense of purpose in relation to its role in addressing the multiple challenges facing the world today. It will also have a stronger sense of direction in relation to its collaborations with regard to the other world of work actors and the wider social and solidarity economy organizations.

What is your message to Congress delegates?

I am confident that you will come out stronger from these deliberations with a keen sense of purpose and direction for the cooperative movement in the years to come. I look forward to our collaboration in 2022 as we will mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of ILO Recommendation 193 on the promotion of cooperatives and the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Cooperatives, as well as the first-ever general discussion on the social and solidarity economy at the 110th International Labour Conference. I have no doubt that the strong partnership between the ILO and the ICA will continue to flourish in the decades to come.