The relationship between cooperatives and the wider SSE was explored during two events around the World Cooperative Congress

With the theme of “Deepening our Cooperative Identity”, the 33rd World Cooperative Congress was held in Seoul, the Republic of Korea from 1 to 3 December 2021.

The Director of ILO’s Enterprises Department and chair of the UNTFSSE, Mr Victor van Vuuren contributed to the discussion on cooperatives and the wider Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) at a parallel session of the Congress and at a post-Congress event on Global Round Table of Governmental Authorities for the Promotion of Cooperatives.

During his presentation at the parallel Session “Living Our Cooperative Identity within the Social and Solidarity Economy”, Mr van Vuuren recalled ILO’s profound engagement with cooperatives. Since its creation in 1919, the ILO has recognized the importance of cooperatives as a means of pursuing its mandate to achieve social justice and full employment, he noted.

The first Director-General of ILO Albert Thomas was a French co-operator, and the Cooperatives Units of ILO was established in 1920. As early as 1919, formal relations started between the ILO and the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA). Cooperatives have been featured in international labour standards such as The Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No. 193) which provides a framework for the development of cooperative policies and legislation in 21st Century.

On the relationship between cooperatives and the SSE, Mr van Vuuren noted that cooperatives are key components of the SSE. He cited the ICA’s position paper of 2020: “the cooperative movement has been one of the main institutional pillars of the SSE and has been actively engaged in the modern revival of the SSE.”

He mentioned that next year the ILO would host a general discussion on the SSE for the human-centred future of work at its International Labour Conference. This would allow the ILO constituents to debate on the SSE and its role in advancing decent work. He added that the cooperative movement would certainly provide constructive contributions to such discussion. He also welcomed the ICA’s commitment to establishing stronger partnership with global SSE organizations by joining international networks such as the UNTFSSE.

He pointed out that as the pandemic had posed many fragilities in our economies, the SSE organizations faced important challenges today especially in developing economies where focus needed to be put on closing the gap with developed economies. He also reminded the audience to rethink the way we do business to ensure a planet-centred and planet-sensitive long-term recovery. In this regard, education plays a significant role in changing the culture of making businesses and so does cooperatives.



Upon answering a question about the strategies to build a strong international recognition of the important role of cooperatives and SSE, Mr van Vuuren reflected that advancing partnership and common understanding of the SSE would be essential. He also indicated that SSE has a great potential in addressing environmental challenges.

At the Global Round Table of Governmental Authorities for the Promotion of Cooperatives, Mr van Vuuren introduced the main objectives of the first ever general discussion on the SSE at the 2022 International Labour Conference. He noted that “cooperatives are recognized by the ILO constituents across Member States as key components of the SSE as reflected in the legislation emerging on the SSE. In many countries, cooperative enterprises play a role in key sectors of the economy from finance and agriculture to housing and retail. They also have strong institutional structures, historic legacy and legal recognition more so than other components of the SSE.

This commonwealth generated by the cooperative movement belongs to us all Mr van Vuuren noted. It is something we must rely on and expand upon, as we move forward on the discussion on the SSE. In this context, we should not see cooperatives in isolation but in a broader context of the growing diversity of enterprises and organizations that are based on values of cooperation, mutualism and solidarity, and which combine social, economic and environmental objectives.

He also presented the ILO’s work in supporting its Constituents in SSE-related areas ranging from legal and policy advice, research and statistics, to training and capacity building. He concluded that the ILO would continue its century-long engagement with the cooperative movement in the years to come. It would continue to collaborate closely with cooperatives at global, regional, sectoral and national levels. It would also assess and respond to requests from its constituents for collaboration regarding issues such as the SSE.

To find out more about the Post-Congress event on Global Round Table of Governmental Authorities for the Promotion of Cooperatives, see here.