As the global business elite gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a new report reveals how the world’s largest co-ops share ownership, control and profits with tens of millions of people.
In stark contrast to the conventional shareholder-led approach to business and wealth creation that are the focus in Davos, the new report, written by Johnston Birchall of Stirling University and published by Co-operatives UK, examines how the world’s largest co-ops ensure that their customers, employees and suppliers have meaningful influence over what the businesses do.
With inequality and economic exclusion high on the agenda, and calls in the UK for the government to make good on its aspirations for corporate governance reforms, Birchall’s analysis is timely.
The world’s biggest 300 co-ops have a combined turnover of $2.16 trillion, while co-ops worldwide are owned by 1.2 billion members and sustain 280 million livelihoods—equivalent to 10 percent of the world’s employed population.
Birchall’s report analyses the mechanisms used by large cooperatively run businesses as diverse as insurance firms, retailers and manufacturers to ensure that the decisions they make are driven by their members.
Through a mix of member engagement strategies, elections to the board of directors and powerful representative bodies that oversee management, these large cooperative businesses balance the expertise needed to run a global a business with inclusive stakeholder participation.
“While the business elite meets in Davos, they would do well to look around at the cooperative alternative that is already making a difference to people’s lives around the world," Birchall said. "As my analysis shows, co-ops are able combine the expertise needed to run a multi-billion pound business with mechanisms for their members—employees, customers and suppliers—to control strategic decisions and share in the profits.”