International Labour Organization (ILO)





The International Labour Organization (ILO) is devoted to promoting social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights, pursuing its founding mission that labour peace is essential to prosperity.


Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) at the ILO

The International Labour Organization (ILO) boasts a long tradition and experience in the social and solidarity economy. In fact, the ILO’s Cooperatives Unit was established in 1920, one year after the ILO’s creation, and the first official document to make direct reference to enterprises in the social economy dates back to the year 1922.

Although there is no globally agreed definition on social and solidarity economy, the ILO uses the definition that was adopted at the Conference on “The Social Economy: Africa’s response to the Global Crisis” in 2009, describing  the SSE as “a concept designating enterprises and organizations, in particular cooperatives, mutual benefit societies, associations, foundations and social enterprises, which have the specific feature of producing goods, services and knowledge while pursuing both economic and social aims and fostering solidarity”.

The ILO’s commitment to the advancement of the SSE is grounded on its Constitution, on the 2008 ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization and on the 2019 Declaration for the Future of Work in which it is indicated that the ILO should concentrate its effort in “supporting the role of the private sector as a principal source of economic growth and job creation by promoting an enabling environment for entrepreneurship and sustainable enterprises, in particular micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as cooperatives and the social and solidarity economy, in order to generate decent work, productive employment and improved living standards for all”.

The ILO Recommendation on the Promotion of Cooperatives, 2002 (R.193) is one of the milestone which guides the ILO’s work on SSE. In addition to a number of technical activities conducted at country level to support the development of SSE (advice on policy and law, capacity building, international networking, etc.) the ILO, through its Cooperatives Unit (COOP), has undertaken considerable work at regional and global levels in the field of the SSE. For instance, the ILO has undertaken different country-level projects on SSE enterprises and organizations, among which in Tunisia, Algeria, and South Africa.

Moreover, since 2010, the ILO has held, in close collaboration with the ILO International Training Centre in Turin, Academies on Social and Solidarity Economy, bringing together academics, practitioners and constituents to discuss the subject. As part of the Academy, an online course on SSE has been developed, as well as the Collective Brain, a virtual interactive space aiming to enrich the ILO Academy on Social and Solidarity Economy. In addition, the South-South and Triangular Cooperation “Meeting Point”, as well as the other social network tools (Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook) exist.

The ILO also aims, through the ILO’s Social Finance Programme, to improve access to finance through the promotion of social economy organizations such as microfinance and micro-insurance schemes. Other initiatives carried by other ILO’s units or departments include the efforts made by the Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV) to document and to support initiatives by trade unions and other workers organizations in the area of the SSE. This covers efforts to organize informal economy workers through cooperatives as well as support job preservation through worker buy-out. Finally, ILO’s Partnerships and Field Support Department (PARDEV), through its Emerging and Special Partnerships Unit supports scholarships and research papers from social partners and experts from the South, to support South-South and Triangular Cooperation, on the topic of the SSE.


Main publications and outputs:

“Cooperatives and Social Solidarity Economy – Responses to key issues in the report of the Global Commission on the Future of Work” 2019. Available in English, Spanish and French.

“Cooperatives and the World of Work No.11: Towards a better understanding of the role of cooperatives in the ready-made garment supply chain” 2019. Available in English, Spanish, and French.

“Cooperatives and the World of Work No.12: Waste pickers’ cooperatives and social and solidarity economy organizations” 2019. Available in English.

“Social and Solidarity Economy and the Future of Work” 2017. Available in English, Italian, and Spanish.

“The Future of Work Centenary Initiative Issue Note Series No. 6 – Cooperation in a changing world of work: Towards a cooperative future” 2017. Available in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Korean and Japanese.

“Public policies for social and solidarity economy: Assessing progress in seven countries”, 2017. Available in English.

“Public policies for the social and solidarity economy: Towards a favourable environment. The case of the Republic of Korea”, 2017. Available in English.

“Public policies for the Social and Solidarity Economy: Towards an enabling environment. The case of South Africa”, 2017. Available in English.

“Social and Solidarity Economy: towards inclusive and sustainable development” – Reader of the ILO SSE Academy 2014. Available in EnglishSpanish and Portuguese.

“Social and Solidarity Economy: Our common road towards Decent Work” – Reader for the ILO SSE Academy 2011. Available in EnglishSpanish and French.

Key ILO resources for capacity building and training of cooperatives and other SSE enterprises are available here.


Website and Social Media:

For more publications and useful information please visit our website: and social media (Twitter: @Coopsemploy).