Communities of co-operatives around the world subscribe to a collection of principles that are based on those drafted in England in 1844 by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. The “Rochdale Pioneers” founded what would become the co-op on which the modern co-operative movement would be based.
Adherence to the principles is generally voluntary, although some are the basis of the legislation that provides the legal basis on which co-operatives operate. For instance, democratic member control is a defining trait of co-operatives that is required by the Co-operative Association Act in British Columbia, and is therefore not voluntary.
Though co-op communities in different parts of the world may articulate the principles in slightly different ways, all are based squarely on the principles laid out by the Rochdale Pioneers.
In Canada, they are based on the International Cooperative Alliance statement of the cooperative identity, as follows:
Statement on the Co-operative Identity
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.
Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.
1. Voluntary and Open membership
Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, 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.
2. Democratic Member Control
Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions on the principle of one member one vote. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership.
3. Member Economic Participation
Members contribute to and democratically control the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. The co-operative’s surplus is either distributed to its members in proportion to their transactions with the co-op, or directed to other activities approved by the membership.
4. Autonomy and Independence
Co-operatives are autonomous, self help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.
5. Education, Training and Information
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They also strive to inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
Co-operatives serve their members and strengthen the co-operative movement by working in solidarity with other co-ops and national, regional, and international co-operative organizations.
7. Concern for Community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.