Can co-ops reduce
the burden down
on the farm?
Plus … Preview of the
ICA Global Conference ...
Why co-ops should be like
pirates ... and proposals
for Irish legal reform
9 770009 982010
MICRO TO MACRO
Why agriculture needs
co-operation more than ever
CONNECTING, CHAMPIONING AND
CHALLENGING THE GLOBAL CO-OP
MOVEMENT SINCE 1871
Holyoake House, Hanover Street,
Manchester M60 0AS
(00) 44 161 214 0870
Anca Voinea | firstname.lastname@example.org
Miles Hadfield | email@example.com
ART & DESIGN PLACEMENT
INTERNATIONAL OUTREACH OFFICER
Barbara Rainford (chair), David Paterson
(vice-chair), Gavin Ewing, Tim Hartley,
Beverley Perkins and Ray Henderson.
Secretary: Richard Bickle
Established in 1871, Co-operative
News is published by Co-operative
Press Ltd, a registered society under
the Co-operative and Community
Benefit Society Act 2014. It is printed
every month by Buxton Press, Palace
Road, Buxton, Derbyshire SK17 6AE.
Membership of Co-operative Press is
open to individual readers as well as
to other co-operatives, corporate bodies
and unincorporated organisations.
The Co-operative News mission statement
is to connect, champion and challenge
the global co-operative movement,
through fair and objective journalism
and open and honest comment and
debate. Co-op News is, on occasion,
supported by co-operatives, but
final editorial control remains with
Co-operative News unless specifically
labelled ‘advertorial’. The information
and views set out in opinion articles
and letters do not necessarily reflect
the opinion of Co-operative News.
From climate change to a growing population to feed, from fierce competition in the
markets to downward pressure on prices, these are testing times for farmers. This
has brought the benefits of co-operation, which range from a sense of solidarity to
shared innovations and economies of scale, into the spotlight.
In the UK, the sector is still waiting for a collaboration fund announced three years
ago by the government to come on line. Civil servants have been busy working on
contingency plans for Brexit – but the country’s exit from the EU, which will end CAP
payments and bring tariff issues – mean this collaboration fund is urgently needed
(p28-32). Our lead feature also asks how co-operation is helping farmers in their
drive to more sustainable production, and to take control of their supply chains in a
market dominated by multinationals.
We also take a look at how agricultural co-operation plays out at difference scales,
from national policy to village projects (p34-35), and the specific issues that have
brought problems to the dairy sector, which has suffered from price volatility
bringing demutualisations, mergers, and farmer disputes (p36-37).
Of course, there are always new markets and opportunities for the sector – some of
which come in unexpected and controversial forms; this month report on the way
co-ops and credit unions in the US and Canada are taking advantage of liberalised
law on cannabis (p38-39).
Elsewhere in this month’s edition, we look at the past and possible future of
co-operation in Ireland (p44-47), efforts by the Fairtrade Mark to protect its integrity
among a sea of challenger labels (p42-43) and a new, and unusual, perspective of
the disruptive potential of co-ops – which draws inspiration from the golden age of
the pirates (p40-41).
And, as the world’s co-op movement makes preparations to in Rwanda in October,
we preview the ICA Global Conference – Co-operatives for Development (p26-27)
MILES HADFIELD - DIGITAL EDITOR
Co-operative News is printed using vegetable oil-based
inks on 80% recycled paper (with 60% from post-consumer
waste) with the remaining 20% produced from FSC or PEFC
certified sources. It is made in a totally chlorine free process.
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 3
ICA Global Conference ...
Why co-ops should be like
pirates ... and proposals
for Irish legal reform
9 770009 982010
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT
Brandi Stankovic (p22-23); troubles for
the dairy sector (p36-37); stubble burning
in the Punjab (p28-29); cannabis, co-ops
and credit unions (p38-39); Anne Bonny, a
pirate inspiration for co-operators (p40-41)
44 | AUGUST 2019
news Issue #7311 SEPTEMBER 2019
Connecting, championing, challenging
Can co-ops reduce
the burden down
on the farm?
Plus … Preview of the
COVER: Working on the farm at Stroud
Community Supported Agriculture, one of
many co-op initiatives being applied to
the sector. This month, the News looks at
issues facing farm co-ops
(Photo: Stroud Community Agriculture)
MICRO TO MACRO
22-23 MEET... BRANDI STANKOVIC
Strategic Advisory Services senior vice
president at CU Solutions Group
25 CO-OP COLLEGE CENTENARY
Sophie McCulloch looks in the archives at
the UK retail movement’s farming past
26-27 ICA PREVIEW
The world co-op movement gathers
in Rwanda in October to discuss
development. Here’s a look at
28-39 CO-OPS AND AGRICULTURE
28-33 FACING THE FUTURE
Sustainability, tough competition and
Brexit all pose challenges to farmers.
How can co-ops help them weather
34-35 FROM MICRO TO MACRO
Case studies of co-op development in
agriculture, from village level to
36-37 DAIRY CO-OPS
How have uncertain prices, mergers
and demutualisations affected
New laws bring opportunities and
challenges for co-ops and credit unions
40-41 BE MORE PIRATE
Social entrepreneur and writer Sam Conniff
Allende thinks the seafaring pirates of the
17th century have had a bad press – and
their example offers lessons for modern
day disruptors like co-operatives.
42-43 FAIRTRADE AT 25
There is now a glut of rival ethical
certifications on facing shoppers – but
Fairtrade is still the gold standard. How
can it retain its status in the supermarket
and on the farm?
44-45 PATRICK DOYLE ON THE ROLE OF
CO-OPS IN IRELAND
A new history looks at how the co-op
movement helped to shape the emerging
Irish nation – and sought to relieve
hardship facing its rural communities
46-47 NEW LAWS FOR IRISH CO-OPS
The co-op and credit union movements in
Ireland are calling for legal reform to help
them thrive and grow. But how will this take
shape – and why is it taking so long? Paul
6-13 UK updates
14-21 Global updates
4 | SEPTEMBER 2019
Keeping Co-operative News on course in the
age of digital media
A message from the new Co-op Press chair Barbara Rainford
I am truly honoured and excited to be elected the new chair of Co-op Press. I would like to take this
opportunity of thanking retiring chair, Elaine Dean, for her admirable leadership of the board over the past
six years – and particularly for guiding us through the challenges of the last year. Thanks also to David
Paterson for his continued support as vice-chair.
The editorial team, led by Rebecca, is doing an excellent job of keeping the co-op movement up to date with
co-operative progress – not just in the UK but in Europe and globally. As technology advances, the world
grows smaller with new co-ops like Coop Exchange emerging that will allow anyone in the world to invest in
co-ops – supported by Ben Reid and Dame Pauline Green, two very familiar and exceptional co-operators.
When Rebecca first joined Co-op Press, she designed the new logo and the new magazine format which have
been very favourably accepted across the movement, by everyone – big societies and worker co-ops alike.
As international editor, and with her excellent knowledge of several languages, Anca’s diverse experience
and excellent research skills continue to keep us up to date on the co-op movement worldwide. Miles’
journalistic skills help source a range of fascinating stories – and between them the team bring in-depth
coverage of co-operative events.
Co-op News has seen many changes since its first publication in 1871 – the first edition was a black and
white newspaper, printed in-house, a far cry from the full colour magazine format we are all so familiar with
now. As we go further into the digital age there will be more changes; many people prefer to catch up with
the news on phones, tablets and laptops, and current news can be shared easily and rapidly in this format.
This can allow us to reserve more specific articles – and a precis of news items – for the printed copy.
The Co-op Press board has just completed a strategic plan looking ahead for the next five years; this includes
retaining the printed copy for those subscribers who wish to read it in this format – but also better use of
digital technologies that will allow us to widen our international co-operative audience.
This year we will be liaising with Co-operatives UK, the Co-operative College and the Heritage Trust on the
New Force project – working together in true co-operative fashion to reduce overheads and share resources.
While the Co-operative College celebrates 100 years this year, Co-op News will celebrate its 150th anniversary
in 2021, and the board and editorial team are looking forward to planning how to mark this special occasion
and share it with members.
In the meantime, Co-op News will continue to be the voice of the co-op movement – celebrating achievements,
championing co-operative issues, reliving historical milestones, and interviewing outstanding speakers
– the last edition saw us catch up with Ted Howard, Claire McCarthy and Andy Burnham – and covering
co-operative events globally as well as in the UK.
I am looking forward to the challenges of the next year and sharing our co-operative success stories with
BARBARA RAINFORD - CHAIR
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 5
CO-OPERATIVE ECONOMY REPORT
Portrait of the
show UK co-operatives
had a record £37.7bn
turnover for past year
The latest Co-op Economy Report reveals
that the UK’s 7,215 independent co-ops
had a turnover at a record high of £37.7bn
for 2018-2019 – up more than £400m on
the previous year.
However, the number of independent
co-operatives has fallen by 51, says the
report, produced by sector apex body
The report shows the turnover,
membership and employee figures for
thousands of co-ops across the UK.
Co-operatives UK attributes the decline
in the number of co-ops to a decline
in new starts, with 150 co-op start-ups in
2019, down from the previous year’s 191.
The report confirms the co-operative
model remains resilient, with almost
three out of four co-op start-ups (72%) still
flourishing after the difficult first five years
of existence, compared to only 43% in the
case of new companies (57%).
The UK’s co-ops have 13.7 million
members and 233,733 employees. The
majority of the UK’s co-ops are based in
report on the UK’s
p Nenthead Arts and Visitor’s Centre – one of England’s highest co-ops
England, which also accounts for 87% of
the total turnover, as well as 79% of newly
created co-ops in 2019. However, both
Scotland and Wales created more co-ops
than England when correlated against
The report reveals that agriculture and
finance remain the dominant sectors in
Scotland, combining to provide almost
40% of co-ops. More than 50% of co-ops in
Wales are in the membership associations,
social clubs and trade unions sector. In
Northern Ireland over 61% of co-ops are
in the finance sector – reflecting a strong
credit union presence, with another 15%
of co-ops in the agriculture sector.
According to the report, the UK’s
largest co-operative is the John Lewis
Partnership, with a turnover of £10.316bn,
followed by the Co-op Group with
£10.162bn, Arla Foods with £2.643bn,
the National Merchant Buying Society
(NMBS) with £1.787bn and Midcounties
Co-operative with £1.177bn. Central
England Co-operative comes sixth with
a turnover of £827m.
Co-op Group CEO Steve Murrells said:
“We are living in fractious and uncertain
times where many communities feel
disconnected and vulnerable. It is in
such a climate where the true value of
co-operation can shine through, just like
it did in Rochdale 175 years ago.
“Co-ops are innovative, resilient and
inclusive – characteristics the UK will
need more of in the years ahead. Our way
of doing business has never felt more
relevant than it does today.”
The report also shows that rural
economies are the most co-operative in
the UK, with the Outer Hebrides, Orkney
Islands and Shetland Islands having the
highest ratio of co-operative businesses
to people, followed by Eden and Allerdale
Among those co-operatives making an
important difference in rural economies
is Papay Community Co-operative,
6 | SEPTEMBER 2019
a member-owned business on Papa
Westray, one of the most northerly of the
The centre, which is run entirely by
local people, operates the island’s only
shop as well as a 20-bed hostel.
Papay’s secretary Tim Dodman said:
“It’s absolutely vital for us to have
a community shop – a reliable shop that’s
competitively priced. It has played a key
role in preventing population decline.”
He added: “The co-op ethos is very
important. It’s a sharing model. This is
a small island and pretty remote.
“It’s much better to work co-operatively
than have one individual in control
of a lifeline service.”
Similarly, in the North Pennines, the
Nenthead Arts and Visitor Centre was
saved by local residents who raised
the funds through grant funding and a
community share offer. A former chapel,
the centre is one of England’s highest
co-ops – based at around 15,000 feet
above sea level.
Sandra Mackenzie, chair of Nenthead
Arts and Visitor Centre, said: “Our aim
is to put Nenthead on the map as a
top tourist destination, attracting visitors
to the our fabulous café, exciting gallery
space and dramatic outdoors.
“The centre is now owned by the
community, which means we control our
own destiny, with members having a stake
and a say in how things are run. With
tourism making such a vital contribution
to so many people’s livelihoods it was
important to us that the community is
empowered to take decisions about such
a valuable asset.”
Ed Mayo, Co-operatives UK secretary
general, said: “When needs are so
acute in remote and rural areas there’s
a necessity and greater impetus for people
to work together. There’s strength in being
able to rely on others, on being part of
“The model is just as relevant in
inner-city Glasgow or central London
as it is in the Outer Hebrides. The entire
UK economy could learn a lot from the
extraordinary success of the Scottish
isles and rural Cumbria – particularly in
Number of farming co-operatives falls – but with an increased turnover
The number of farming co-operatives in the
UK has dropped for the fourth time in five
years, from 440 in 2018 to 434. According
to the latest Co-operative Economy Report
published by Co-operatives UK, the
number of farmer owners has fallen by
1.8%, to 153,486, though overall turnover
is up to £7.9bn (£7,901,313,984) from
In light of the report’s findings, the
sector is calling on farmers to stand united
to combat the threat of multi-national
corporations in the food supply chain.
Among those responding to the report’s
findings is Aspatria Farmers, a farmerowned
co-op, which sources farming
supplies for its 900 members operating
across Cumbria, the north east and southwest
CEO Tim Wilson said: “The supply
chain is getting controlled by fewer and
fewer players who all want to take more
money out of farmers’ pockets.”
He added: “There’s a need to get our
act together and demonstrate that by
co-operating we are stronger together.”
The UK lags behind other European
countries when it comes to the market
share of farming co-ops, currently at just
6%. By contrast, farming co-ops have a
45% market share in Spain, 55% in France
and 68% in the Netherlands.
Mr Wilson added: “A co-op can also help
farmers manage an increasingly complex
business. Most farmers are time precious.
You’ve got farmers managing a farm twice
the size that their ancestors managed –
with half the personnel. By learning better
practices, by innovating, by co-operating
better, we’ll all do our jobs better.
“Everybody who comes up a farmer’s
drive is going to take money out of
the farmer’s pocket. If you’re part of a
co-operative, then the farming expert
who comes up your drive is going to try
to make the farmer more money. Without
successful customers, you don’t have
Co-operatives UK’s agriculture manager
Richard Self says increasing farmers’
control over their produce is not about
maximising profits, but is crucial to a
farmer’s ability to innovate and create
a sustainable business.
He said: “Lack of co-operation and
collaboration has helped create an
imbalance of power within the supply
chain, weighted heavily towards the
retailers and dominant food processors.
This, in turn, means primary producers
struggle to have the financial return
necessary to invest in new technology
u Spotlight on agriculture: 28-39
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 7
Digital transformation will run from the supplier to the shopper in the aisle
p Checking out in the aisle with the Group’s new app
The Co-op Group has begun the first stage
of its Retail Business Transformation
programme (RBT), with the introduction
of new tech to improve ranging, stock
holding, availability and forecasting.
As part of the changes, the retailer
is using a new cloud-based supplier
collaboration portal, Co-op Connect.
The systems are being tested in 24
stores, across five categories, with 15
suppliers and around 300 stock-keeping
units. The categories being trialled are
soft drinks, salads, paper, pizza and
beer, working with suppliers including
Coca-Cola, Heineken, Agrial Fresh
Produce, Bakkavor Pizza & Bread, and
Michael Fletcher, chief commercial
officer at the Group, said: “The RBT
programme is an integral part of Co-op’s
ongoing success, as we look to ensure
that the technology we are using will
future-proof the business for many years
“This pilot will allow us to work with
suppliers to ensure that it is working
perfectly before we roll it out elsewhere,
and we are already getting positive
feedback that the new portal is faster and
easier to navigate.
“Investing in new technology will
allow us to grow the business, helping to
deliver a stronger Co-op that will result in
Meanwhile, shoppers at several Group
stores will soon be able to check out using
their phones and other mobile devices.
After piloting its pay-in-aisle technology
in 2018, the retailer is rolling it out to more
than 30 Co-op Food stores across England,
Scotland and Wales by late August.
The technology sits along existing
payment methods – including cashiers
and self-scan tills – to provide added
choice, speed, ease and convenience,
especially at busier times.
The app, which is easy to register and
use, enables customers to scan products
on their own device as they walk around
the store, with the cost of the shop
deducted from their Apple or Google
Pay account with the touch of a button,
without the need to visit a till.
Members can also have their 5% reward
added to their account on the purchase of
own-brand products, while the Group will
donate a further 1% to local causes.
The new technology responds to a 10%
decline in the popularity of notes and
coins in Co-op stores during the last two
years. The use of contactless, cards and
other payment methods now accounts
for more than one in two transactions
even though cash remains common in
Mark Pettigrew, director of retail
support, said: “Technology is bringing
unprecedented levels of change to
retailing, with speed and ease key drivers
for time-pressed consumers. We know
that people adopt technology at different
speeds, and while cash is here to stay it is
clear that it is increasingly playing a lesser
role in society.
“Retailers need to adapt and be agile,
and this app builds added choice and
convenience into the retail experience
for our members and customers, while
appealing to new shoppers.”
He added: “People lead busy lives and,
shoppers value their time. Whether it’s
a train to catch or on the school run this
technology cuts queues and saves time.
“It can give our stores increased
opportunity to replenish stock and
increase product availability so we are
at our best even at our busiest times,
and enables customers to complete their
shopping quickly and get on with the rest
of their day.”
8 | SEPTEMBER 2019
Retail road trip: Heading out to meet the membership
The Co-op Group is encouraging members
and communities to get involved in the
business and find out more about its
operations through a series of live events
around the UK this autumn.
The 12 Join In Live events in
September and October will be hosted by
representatives of the Group’s National
Members’ Council, Member Pioneers,
senior leaders and local community
teams. They will highlight the work the
organisation is doing above and beyond
retail and give members the chance to “get
involved in making a difference together”.
Visitors will hear updates on what’s
happening around the business and
the latest on big projects such as the
Endangered Spaces campaign, and will
help generate ideas on how the Group can
celebrate 25 years of Fairtrade and better
support producers and customers.
A pop-up Co-op Marketplace will offer
samples of new food and drink products,
and will be a place to meet Co-op
colleagues and other members.
Registration goes live on 2 September
and there will also be an app available
containing further details about the
events and who will be there; the
app can also be used as a tool for
submitting questions in advance and
West Midlands: Stoke (Co-op Academy)
Wednesday 25 Sep, 6.30pm
South West: Plymouth (Guildhall)
Thursday 26 Sep, 6.30pm
Saturday 28 Sep, 11.00am
East Midlands: Nottingham
(Cricket Club, Trent Bridge)
Wednesday 02 Oct6.30pm
South East: Brighton
(The Crypt at St Georges)
Thursday 03 Oct, 6.30pm
London: Coin Street Conference Centre
(108 Stamford Street, SE1 9NH)
Saturday 05 Oct, 11:00am
North West: Salford
(Co-op Academy Walkden)
Monday 07 Oct, 6.30pm
(The Studio Glasgow, 45 Oswald St, G1 4PA)
Saturday 12 Oct, 1:00pm
Yorkshire & Humber: Leeds
(Leeds University Union)
Wednesday 16 Oct, 6.30pm
North East: Newcastle
(Brunswick Methodist Church)
Thursday 17 Oct, 6.30pm
East of England: East Anglia
(Wymondham Central Hall)
Saturday 19 Oct, 10.30am
Northern Ireland: Belfast
(Girdwood Community Hub)
Thursday 24 Oct, 6.30pm
Councils told to act more quickly on food waste as
climate battle hots up
The Co-op Group has urged English local
authorities to speed up the rollout of food
waste collections from homes as new
figures reveal approximately 1,000 tonnes
a day ends up in landfill when it could be
composted or used to create energy and
help cut greenhouse gases.
Food waste rots and produces methane,
a greenhouse gas estimated as 23 times
more damaging than carbon dioxide.
The Group also believes many of
the 1.75 billion single-use plastic bags
in circulation could be replaced with
compostable alternatives – such as the
bags it is giving out in more than 1,000
stores in areas where the local authority
accepts them in food waste collections.
The carriers have been designed to
have a valuable second use as food waste
caddy liners. The Group estimates that it
could stop producing 60 million plastic
bags if local authorities begin food waste
collections from homes sooner and permit
the use of compostable carrier bags as
food waste bin liners.
It is also writing to all local authorities
that do not collect food waste at all,
calling for the introduction of universal
food waste collections to be sped up, to
help stop 356,000 tonnes of food waste, in
England alone, going to landfill.
Currently 156 English councils (48%) do
not have a kerbside food waste collection
– while, of the 169 local authorities that
do, 12% per cent refuse the compostable
bags. The Group has written to these
20 local authorities calling on them to
change their position.
The Group says it will make the
compostable carriers widely available
through its wholesale operation if local
authorities and the government accept
them in food waste collections, saving
more than 5 million plastic bags a month
from ending up in landfill.
Proposals being developed by the
government will see all homes receiving
weekly food waste collections by 2023,
but twice as much of the total food wasted
in the UK a year could be recycled into
energy and fertiliser, if this were to be
Michael Fletcher, chief commercial
officer at the Group, said: “How we do
business really matters. The world is
experiencing a climate crisis and we need
to work together to avoid it.
“Accelerating action is the only way
to mitigate and reduce impacts on our
natural world, and to ensure stable food
supply chains in the future.”
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 9
BSL interpreters sign up for new co-op to cut out the middle man
A new platform co-op, SignCo, is being
formed for BSL English interpreters and
translators, in a bid to halt a “race to the
bottom” in the profession.
The team behind the Merseyside
venture says agencies have been dictating
fees, terms and conditions in recent years,
and wants to “change contract culture in
favour of end suppliers (translators), end
users and health professionals”.
Under the current system, says SignCo,
“health services have struggled to make
their services accessible”.
The co-op will be run democratically
by its members, who will include
service users as well as interpreters and
translators. It will consult with all users
to co-create a service that works for health
staff, users and workers.
Members will co-design an online
booking platform and hold discussions
over how it should work. Once the
platform is up and running, SignCo says
it will “use it to get NHS contracts and
provide a better service for all”.
SignCo’s founders – Jen Smith, Wes
Mehaffy, Kate Boddy and Nicky Evans
– have already surveyed NHS staff and
service users in Merseyside and are being
helped by Co-operatives UK and co-op
support programme the Hive. “The deaf
community have had to endure years
of poor provision due to contracts that
are not fit for purpose,” they said. “Too
often commissioners consulted only
with agencies wishing to bid and not the
community using the services.
“SignCo wants deaf people to become
members and help shape all our services.”
Three more years of funding granted for
Welsh community housing projects
Wales Co-operative Centre has secured
£1m – three years worth of funding – for
its programme to develop co-operative
and community-led housing.
The programme – Communities
Creating Homes – was launched at the
Royal Welsh Show on 23 July and follows
on from its Co-operative Housing Project,
which saw 137 co-op and community-led
housing homes developed.
Chief executive Derek Walker said:
“Wales is facing a housing crisis... Wales
Co-operative Centre is helping people to
come together to develop co-operative and
community-led housing schemes, which
can make housing more affordable.”
He added: “We have been pleased
with the level of interest. Many had been
previously unaware of this alternative
model but they have quickly understood
what’s on offer. It is a chance to make
homes, not just houses, and to create
“The funding from the Nationwide
Foundation and Welsh government will
help us provide a comprehensive package
of support, which is free of charge and
tailored to the needs of each scheme.”
The Nationwide Foundation will
provide three years of funding, with the
Welsh government allocating funding for
two of the three years.
Gary Hartin, Nationwide Foundation’s
programme manager, said: “Co-op and
community-led housing provides decent,
affordable homes for people who need
them, in places where they’re wanted.
It has the energy and commitment of
local people and creates a big impact
for the communities in which it
“In Wales, there is growing and clear
demand for co-operative and communityled
housing, so we welcome the
commitment from the Welsh government
which, alongside our funding, will ensure
it continues to flourish. We believe co-op
and community-led housing has the
potential to become a mainstream option
in Wales for delivering affordable homes.”
Julie James, minister for housing
and local government, added: “The Welsh
government remains very committed
to community-led housing in Wales,
which enables the community to be
integrally involved in decision making
about their homes.
“Building more affordable housing and
providing people with safe, warm and
secure homes is a key priority for this
Welsh government. I’m looking forward
to watching it grow and flourish and
contribute towards our commitment to
build 20,000 affordable homes during
this Assembly term.”
She added: “I am pleased we are
able to expand the support available
through the Wales Co-operative Centre
in conjunction with the Nationwide
Foundation. The demand for co-operative
and community-led housing in Wales
is growing – and this fantastic project
will benefit from £270,000 over the next
10 | SEPTEMBER 2019
‘in talks for merger”,
Co-op Energy is in talks with Octopus,
a rival challenger in the energy sector,
over a possible merger, according to
a report in the Sunday Times.
The newspaper says Octopus is looking
to acquire some or all of Co-op Energy’s
370,000 customers to add to its own
800,000 client base, which would take it
past the 1 million mark.
Losses at Co-operative Energy dented
the most recent annual results for its
owner Midcounties Co-operative, released
in May. The energy business had grown
its sales to £423m but was hit by rising
wholesale costs, leaving Midcounties
considering options to reduce its impact.
The society appointed auditor PwC
to explore options for two GB Energy
and Flow, two brands which had been
acquired by Co-op Energy. It took on
the 160,000 customers of GB Energy
Supply when it collapsed in 2016, and
bought Flow, which has around 130,000
customers, in 2018.
According to the Sunday Times, sources
said there had been problems merging the
IT systems of the different businesses, and
Co-op Energy has struggled with customer
Octopus – which, like Co-op Energy,
supplies its energy from renewable
sources – entered the market in 2016 and
says it has been growing by around 30,000
customers a month. It now supplies more
than 400,000 UK homes.
It bought rival Affect Energy in
September last year, and took on
customers from Iresa after it collapsed
Co-op Energy and Octopus have both
declined to comment on the reports.
Lincolnshire Co-op plugs in to EV revolution
Lincolnshire Co-op is installing 50kW
rapid electric vehicle chargers at six of its
stores in a bid to encourage more drivers
to switch to an electric vehicle. Already,
East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber are
home to 25,000 electric car drivers, with
thousands more driving through the area.
Lincolnshire Co-op’s first electric vehicle
charger is now up and running at its
Albert Street Food Store in Newark
Co-op Group covers the waterfront with Salford store
The Co-op Group opened its newest food
store – at Clippers Quay, Salford – on 2
August, following an investment of almost
£750,000 that will create 20 new jobs. The
store creates 20 new jobs and its 5 and 1
reward scheme brings a funding boost to
the area, with a 5% rewards for members
when they purchase own-brand products
Southern stores offer shelter for protected bats
Southern Co-op is helping protected bat
species by installing bat boxes on two of
its local convenience stores. The stores,
in Titchfield and Bishops Waltham in
Hampshire, had the boxes fitted to house
local bat populations. A bat tile – with a
hole just big enough for a long-eared bat
to access – was also fitted to the roof of the
Central England open for business in Derbyshire village
Central England Co-op has opened a new
store in the village of Calow, Derbyshire.
The store, based in a former pub in Top
Lane, has eco-friendly fridges and lighting.
It has an outdoor seating area and its
range includes fresh fruit and veg, in-store
bakery, chilled beers and wines, Irresistible
product ranges and food to go.
Housing co-op brings new life to derelict site in Glasgow
Hawthorn Housing Co-operative has
opened a development of 48 two-storey
homes in Possilpark, Glasgow. The
£5.65m development, on land which has
lain derelict for more than 30 years, was
funded by a £3.75m housing association
grant from Glasgow City Council and
a £1.9m loan from the Bank of Scotland.
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 11
Lessons from abroad:
UK sector leaders study
engagement in Romania
UK credit union practitioners have taken
part in a learning week with Romanian
counterparts in Bucharest.
Staff and directors from 14 English
and Scottish credit unions went on the
trip alongside representatives of the
Association of British Credit Unions
(Abcul) and Liverpool John Moores
University. The group attended classroom
sessions on governance and financial
education, and visited 10 credit unions
across the country.
They explored the different approach of
Romanian credit unions, known as mutual
assistance houses (CARs), which lend
a much greater proportion of their funds
than those in Britain. This is possible
due to a trusted guarantor system, under
which borrowers must identify one or two
people to guarantee the loan.
The system reduces risk and lowers
interest rates, enabling CARs to be
commercially successful despite operating
with smaller memberships.
Tom Waterhouse, a director at NHS
Credit Union, said: “The professionalism
and helpfulness of the staff from top to
bottom was unstinting; the CARs showed
a reach into their communities that some
of us in the UK can only dream of.
“The CARs also showed a range and
sophistication from the very traditional
to the very advanced that surprised and
impressed in equal measure.”
p The credit union delegation in Romania
Chris Smith, a director at Co-op Credit
Union, said he was impressed by the way
the bottom line is assessed using other
measures alongside interest and dividend.
Delegates learned about the work of
CARP Omenia, a credit union whose
members are pensioners – many of whom
must survive on low state pensions. To
help, the CAR offers other services such
as a GP surgery, a day centre, home visits,
and food products at cost price.
David Harris, marketing manager at
Pennine Community Credit Union, said:
“It was interesting to see similarities with
the UK credit union movement, while
being introduced to policy and procedures
that could improve the service we provide
to members. The hospitality shown by our
host was amazing.”
This event followed a Romanian visit
to Liverpool in June 2018, and a week in
Trento in Italy for British and Romanians
in October. This educational programme
is sponsored by the EU’s Erasmus+
initiative, which involves partners from
the UK, Italy and Romania.
Dan Arrowsmith, policy officer at Abcul,
said: “Our hosts in Italy and Romania have
been extremely generous in allowing our
credit unions to examine their methods
of operation and the reasons for their
success. Learning from our international
colleagues in this way has been so valuable
for a British credit union sector which
is still growing and developing its services
David Batten, CEO at Hoot Credit Union
in Bolton, added: “The trip afforded
a valuable opportunity to reflect on
current practice as well as providing ideas
for the development of services at home.
“I was struck by the fact that although
our movements have very different
histories the issues we face are very
similar. Romanian credit unions have
very strong connections with their
communities which is something the UK
movement would do well to develop.”
Lincolnshire store at heart of historic restoration
Lincolnshire Co-op has opened its new
Sincil Street Food Store, in Lincoln’s
The society has led the multi-million
pound redevelopment of the Cornhill
Quarter, which has seen many historic
buildings sympathetically restored. The
new store itself has had the original 1919
shopfront and curved glazing restored.
Design touches reflect the building’s
heritage, such as vintage-style lighting,
tiled flooring and a hanging clock on the
corner on Norman Street and Sincil Street.
Neil White, site manager for project
contractor Lindum, said the original
brickwork had been removed at ground
level and rebuilt to match the existing
curve. “It also involved retaining a 1940s
glass panel overhead,” he said. “The new
woodwork and curved glazing had to
match the size and shape perfectly. There
was no room for error.”
Lincolnshire CEO Ursula Lidbetter said:
“After years of working on the Cornhill
Quarter, it’s a special moment to open our
new food store in the heart of the area.
p CEO Ursula Lidbetter with the store team
“We wanted past and present to
complement each other ... I’m delighted
with the results.”
Researchers found that part of the
building was home to the co-op’s Colonial
Meat Store from 1908 – 1916.
12 | SEPTEMBER 2019
Piracy and adventure: Lessons for Welsh co-operators
Delegates at the 2019 Social Business
Wales conference will be encouraged to
‘be more pirate’ by writer Sam Conniff-
Allende, and hear advice on overcoming
obstacles by adventurer Lowri Morgan.
The rebels of the high seas were the
original social entrepreneurs, says Mr
Conniff-Allende, and can offer inspiration
to businesses of today.
And Ms Morgan, a traveller and
endurance athlete, will talk about how
she is motivated to surmount barriers and
challenges to succeed.
The conference, to be held at Venue
Cymru, Llandudno on 25 September,
brings together social businesses from
across Wales to learn from experts in
areas such as digital marketing, business
leadership and procurement.
There will be a special contribution from
Wrexham-based social enterprise, Eternal
Media, and Cwmni Bro Ffestiniog on the
transformational impact they have had on
The event comes as research shows the
social business sector is worth £3.18bn to
the Welsh economy – an increase of 34%
on 2016. The Mapping the Social Business
Sector in Wales report, commissioned by
Social Business Wales, revealed there
are 2,022 social businesses in Wales,
employing around 55,000 people.
“Going into this year’s conference,
confidence is high within the sector, with
the vast majority of social businesses
expecting to experience growth over
the next few years,” said Glenn Bowen,
enterprise programme director at Social
“However, the sector faces numerous
challenges that pose a risk to continued
growth and sustainability. Measures to
address issues around ageing leadership,
and access to suitable funding options,
for example, need to be designed and
implemented to secure the sector’s
long-term health. It’s a sector that, with
support that targets start-ups, growth and
p Lowri Morgan
sustainability, can continue to grow as we
navigate through the impact of Brexit.”
The event also features a range of
exhibitors from the public, private
and social enterprise sector in Wales –
including a number of the finalists from
the Social Business Wales Awards 2019.
The conference costs £10 to attend, with
tickets available online. The event follows
the Social Business Wales Awards, held
the previous evening at Venue Cymru.
u Interview with Sam Conniff-Allende:
p40-41; book review, p48
Alistair Asher, a key figure in the Co-op Bank rescue
Alistair Asher, a former member of the
Co-op Group executive and key figure in the
rescue of the Co-operative Bank in 2013, has
died after a short illness. Group CEO Steve
Murrells pays tribute.
Alistair joined the Co-op Group in May
2013 as general counsel. Prior to this, he
had been a senior partner at the law firm
Allen & Overy for 34 years, where he was
already part of the team working on plans
to recapitalise the Co-operative Bank
following its financial crisis.
Alistair recognised the seriousness of the
situation at that time and knew the Bank’s
troubles threatened to bring down the
entire Co-op Group and damage the wider
consumer co-op movement in the UK. He
worked tirelessly to prevent this.
Throughout the rescue phase, he was
at the heart of the efforts to stabilise the
Bank and protect the rest of the business.
There were months of long days and
hard meetings. Alistair brought energy,
professionalism, good humour and decency
to all he did during this time.
Through his work on saving the Bank,
Alistair grew to admire and then champion
the values the Co-op Group stood for – and
saw the importance of saving the business
for generations to come. And so he chose to
take early retirement from A&O and join the
Co-op full time.
As a member of the executive, Alistair
helped to complete the financial ‘rescue’ of
the Bank at the end of 2013 and went on to
take a leading role in the changes we made
to our constitution and governance. As
the Co-op began the ‘rebuild’ phase of its
turnaround, Alistair once again brought his
experience and intellect to the task.
I can say without hesitation that the
Co-op would not be here today if it weren’t
for Alistair Asher. He truly believed in the
importance of the co-operative movement
and became a passionate advocate
Along the way he made many friends who
recognised his integrity and admired his
good nature and hard work. I will miss him
greatly and I’m sure many of my colleagues
in the Co-op will, too.
p Alistair Asher helped rebuild the Group
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 13
New research suggests that US agricultural
co-operatives are growing stronger.
Compiled by financial services provider
CoBank, the report suggests the number
of agri co-ops has been declining due to
mergers and consolidation.
According to the report, the pace of
consolidation in the sector has quickened
during the current downturn, averaging
4% annually in 2016 and 2017.
With farmers demanding better and
more diversified services from their
co-op, the sector started consolidating for
the purpose of scale and relevance. The
report reveals that over the decade from
2007 to 2017, on average, 70 co-ops were
From 1992 to 2017 the number
of co-operatives and co-op membership
fell by more than 50%. However, while
co-op numbers continue to shrink, the
number of co-op owned facilities or
locations seems to be steady or growing.
Some co-ops merge with other co-ops as
well as non co-ops, while others dissolve
and some restructure into non co-op
businesses. From 2003 to 2013, on average,
more than 70% of co-op consolidation
resulted from co-ops merging with or
being acquired by another co-op.
The research also highlights that
over the four-year period from 2014 to
2017, nearly three out of every 10 co-op
consolidations resulted from bankruptcy
Consolidation also led to an increase in
the number of co-op employees. Between
2005 and 2017 US co-ops added roughly
7,700 employees and the average co-op
now employs more than 100 people,
a 33% increase in two decades.
Since 1952, co-op business volume has
grown at a compound annual growth
rate (CAGR) of 4.3%. Co-ops have also
increased their sales volume. If in 1983
90% of co-ops had sales of less than US
$15m (£12.33m), at present that figure is
The report argues that co-op income is
much stronger and more stable than in the
past, making the sector more sustainable
and adding a boost to local tax bases.
“We expect consolidation among
agricultural co-operatives to continue
as the industry confronts persistent
challenges in agricultural markets,
evolving farmer demographics and
management style, and the steady
pressure to gain scale in pursuit of
competitive advantage,” says the report.
u Spotlight on agriculture p28-39
Western Farmers Electric Cooperative boosts renewable energy capacity
One of Oklahoma’s biggest electric
co-operatives is boosting capacity with
the purchase of 200 megawatts of batterystored
energy that will increase its
generating fleet to more than 3 gigawatts.
Western Farmers Electric Cooperative
(WFEC) said the project will boost
the amount of reliable, low-cost and
environmentally friendly energy it
provides its customers.
CEO Gary Roulet said: “With the prices
of wind and solar energy lower than
ever, we are now able to pair those with
battery storage to make more affordable,
renewable energy available to customers
for more hours of the day – even when
the wind isn’t blowing and the sun
Phil Schaeffer, the co-op’s principal
resource planning engineer, added: “Wind
has the tendency to blow during night
times, while solar generates its energy
during the day. We are really hoping to
see how battery storage interacts with
that whole profile. Hopefully, that will
translate to better grid stability.”
The power purchase agreement
between WFEC and NextEra cements
plans to complete what it claims as the
largest combined wind, solar and energy
storage project in the USA.
NextEra’s project is called Skeleton
Creek and will be located in the
Garfield, Alfalfa and Major counties of
Oklahoma. Its first phase will have the
capacity to generate 250 megawatts of
wind energy when it comes online at the
end of this year. The solar phase, along
with the 200 MW of storage will become
operational in 2023.
Based in the city of Anadarko, WFEC
was formed in 1941 and includes 21
distributive co-operatives, as well as
the Altus Air Force Base. The co-operative
signed its first power purchase agreement
for about 74MW of wind power with
developers of the Blue Canyon Wind Farm
near Lawton in 2003. It added its first solar
power in 2016.
14 | SEPTEMBER 2019
Gay Lea Foods co-op receives $16.9m from Canadian government
The Canadian government is funding the
expansion of Gay Lea Foods co-operative,
with a CA$16.9m (£10.5m) investment.
The dairy sector plays an important
role in Canada’s economy, contributing
$20.9bn (£13bn) through sales.
It is equally important in Ontario,
where more than 150 dairy processors
generate $6bn (£3.7bn) in sales and
employ more than 8,600 people.
The co-op will receive $10m (£6.2m)
from the Federal Economic Development
Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev
Ontario), which will support the
acquisition and installation of advanced
processing equipment and systems.
The technology will enable Gay Lea
to advance its scientific and technical
capability to produce new, high value
milk products, particularly for the health
food and nutraceutical markets.
An additional $6.9m (£4.3m) through
the DPIF will be used to adopt innovative
processes and equipment to minimise
by-product waste and reduce the plant’s
The investment will help to generate 13
new skilled jobs and maintain 50 at the
Teeswater facility. Set up 60 years ago,
Gay Lea has 4,300 members from
across 1,400 dairy farms in Ontario
Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of
agriculture and agri-food, said: “Our
government is proud to support Gay Lea
Foods Co-operative to help the company
to further develop new product lines,
reduce their environmental footprint,
while also creating good middle-class jobs
The federal government thinks the
project aligns with its recently announced
rural economic development strategy,
which proposes stronger collaboration
and long-term strategic investments
to respond to the unique needs of
Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation,
science and economic development, who
has special responsibility for FedDev
Ontario, said: “Today’s investment in
Gay Lea Foods will help strengthen the
important agri-food sector here in rural
southern Ontario, while creating and
maintaining good jobs for Canadians.”
Gay Lea chair Rob Goodwill said:
“Gay Lea Foods has been steadily growing
a sustainable co-operative while being
a preferred partner in Canadian dairy,
food and beverage processing.
“The investment in our Teeswater
facility is one of many investments we
have committed over the last five years for
not only our co-operative, but Canadian
dairy farmers and a prosperous future for
Michael Barrett, president and
chief executive of Gay Lea, said the
modernisation of the Teeswater facility
proved that innovation and advanced
manufacturing was possible in rural
communities – providing the right tools
and partnerships were in place.
He added: “It is also a great example
of progress and adaptation in Canadian
dairy, as the site of Canada’s oldest
creamery is now home to the creation
of value-added products to serve new
Cocoa co-operative launches in Ghana
A cocoa farming co-operative has been
formed in the city of Kumasi, southern
Ghana, to support farmers and encourage
growth in the sector.
Launched by the Ghana Cocoa
Board (Cocobod) with support from the
Ministry of Agriculture, it is hoped the
formation of the new co-operative will
encourage farmer associations to register
Currently, 1,342 co-ops have been
identified by Cocobod’s Cocoa Health and
Extension Division. Only 512 of these are
fully registered with the government’s
Department of Co-operatives.
Addressing farmers and other
dignitaries at the co-operatives launch,
Cocobod’s chief executive Joseph Boahen
Aidoo announced a series of productivity
enhancement programmes. And he
revealed plans to distribute motorised
slashers for weeding to farmers via the
newly formed co-operative.
He said Cocobod would promote the
establishment of individual service
providers to supply pruning, slashing and
other essential farming services to farmers
to make their work easier.
Mr Aidoo urged individual farmers to
join co-ops and unions to enable them
to benefit from all government initiatives.
The deputy minister of agriculture
in charge of perennial crops, George
Boahen Oduro, insisted the government
is committed to improving the lives
of farmers, especially cocoa farmers.
He said cocoa farmers in particular are
being targeted for government support
because of the contribution they have
made to the economy.
Alhaji Alhassan Bukari, president
of the Ghana Cocoa, Coffee and
Sheanut Farmers Association, called
on all farmers to join the new co-op and
stressed that it had been formed for the
He warned of the risk of partisan politics
breaking up the co-operative and urged
members to follow the rules laid down to
govern the organisation.
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 15
Woccu conference: Credit unions look to a digital future
p Top: Woccu president and CEO Brian Branch. Bottom: Patrick Schwerdtfeger delivers his
presentation at the conference (Photo: Woccu)
Delegates at the World Credit Union
Conference in the Bahamas have heard
from industry experts on ways to make
best use of technology.
“The entire financial services sector is
at an important crossroads,” said World
Council of Credit Unions (Woccu) chair
Steve Stapp, who also serves as president
and CEO of Unitus Community Credit
Union in Portland, Oregon.
Keynote speaker Connie Dieken, founder
of Influence360˚ and strategic advisory
firm Dieken Group, gave delegates advice
on how to lead in their organisation by
connecting, conveying and convincing
their teams. “Why is influence so
important? Because influencers shape the
future, whereas persuaders maintain the
status quo,” she said.
Ms Dieken asked attendees to identify
a positive change they can make in their
credit unions and walked them through
the process of carrying it out.
Woccu president and CEO Brian Branch
told delegates the organisation’s goal for
2025 was the global digitisation of the
credit union system.
“It’s difficult for small financial
institutions to be able to afford this
technology,” he said. “That’s one of the
advantages we see across the globe in
co-operative systems. The ability of
co-ops to share the cost of investing in
and providing that technology, and those
high-skilled human technical resources to
provide credit unions across the country
with that digital technology.”
Delegates also heard from Patrick
Schwerdtfeger, founder of Trend Mastery
and the host of the Strategic Business
Insights video. He warned that the future
of credit union payments and transactions
will look radically different as blockchain
becomes more prevalent.
Telling credit unions to “stay on the
offensive”, he said the sector needed to
“aggressively go after the change” and
implement it as fast as possible within
“I think there’s a huge opportunity
in the financial services industry to
use a blockchain-based system for title
insurance,” added Mr Schwerdtfeger,
providing a list of examples where it could
be used. “I understand a lot of credit
unions are making big in-roads with
refugees – which is a perfect fit for credit
unions to begin with – and blockchain
can help in that space.
“There are all sorts of possible KYC
(know your customer) applications.”
In her keynote address, economic trend
forecaster Pippa Malmgren told credit
unions to prepare for radical change.
Ms Malmgren, who served as an advisor
in the George W Bush White House,
expects new types of digital currency and
payments to transform the way credit
unions do business.
“China has announced they want
to launch their own, sovereign
cryptocurrency. The EU has announced
that they want this. I think the American
authorities are looking at this very
carefully. The British are, too,” she said.
She added that credit unions also
needed to consider using data analytics
to better understand member needs as
well as attract new members. “Whatever
assumptions you have about where
economic opportunity is occurring, leave
them to the side, because it’s moving –
and it’s moving with data.”
The conference was presented in
collaboration with the Caribbean
Confederation of Credit Unions (CCCU).
16 | SEPTEMBER 2019
Young professionals look at diversity and inclusion in the sector
Delegates from the World Council Young
Credit Union Professionals (WYCUP) took
part in a forum on diversity and inclusion
ahead of the opening of the World Credit
Organised by the World Council of Credit
Unions (Woccu), the forum welcomed
professionals seeking to learn or support
youth in the credit union movement.
Brandi Stankovic, an executive
coach and chief strategy officer at CU
Solutions Group, led WYCUP members in
developing an action plan for the
She told members to identify
a challenge that limits their leadership
abilities, and urged them to ask for
suggestions from their WYCYUP
colleagues on how to improve things.
“It’s not only for you, but also for the
individuals giving the ideas,” she said.
“So often, when something is a challenge
for us, we shut down the idea of looking
for solutions. But we can’t do that and still
grow into the leaders we want to be.”
WYCUP members also heard from
Chad Helminak, director of development
education and co-operative culture at
the National Credit Union Foundation.
He encouraged attendees to align their
values with those of the credit union
movement – and to explore ways to use
those values to generate new ideas and
encourage greater engagement among
colleagues and members.
A diversity and inclusion networking
lunch heard a keynote speech from Seattle
Credit Union executive vice president
Tonita Webb. She stressed that diversity
and inclusion programmes are easy for
credit unions to plan for but often very
difficult to implement.
“If you have a diversity and inclusion
programme, and you’re not addressing
implicit bias and micro-aggressions,
you’re going to have people leave,”
She encouraged credit union employees
to push for programmes that ensure
women and minorities can feel safe to
p Brandi Stankovic
talk about those issues, arguing that full
diversity, inclusion and equity is only
possible once that happens.
u Meet ... Brandi Stankovic, p22-23
International Credit Union Day will take local and global perspectives
With International Credit Union Day
approaching, the World Council of Credit
Unions (Woccu) has announced this
year’s theme: Local Service. Global Reach.
Celebrated on the third Thursday of
October since 1948, the day highlights the
movement’s history and achievements,
and shares member experiences.
This year’s theme was chosen by
members of Woccu and the Credit Union
National Association (Cuna) in the USA,
who were asked to choose their favourite
out of seven options. Credit unions from
12 countries sent 100 survey responses
favouring one theme.
Credit unions wishing to take part can
use logos and posters provided by Woccu,
and share photos, events, experiences and
ideas on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
and LinkedIn using #ICUDay.
“Each credit union serves a local
community,” said Woccu president and
CEO Brian Branch.
“And it is because of that local service
in communities across the world that we
have a global credit union movement
that’s now 260 million members strong.
That’s why our theme – Local Service.
Global Reach – so perfectly captures the
focus and scope of credit unions as we
head into the next decade.”
“Our member focus means that we
continuously strive for higher levels of
member service and engagement,” added
Michelle Kamke, marketing projects
manager at Cuna.
“Our co-operative values make us
stronger together, because when we
empower locally, we inspire globally.
ICU Day is a chance to showcase the
meaningful change the movement brings
to members worldwide.”
p International Credit Union Day celebrates the spirit of the global credit union movement
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 17
Regulation and funding gap halt growth
of renewable energy co-ops in Germany
Renewable energy co-ops in Germany
warned that increased regulation and
worsening barriers to funding have stalled
the sector’s expansion.
According to a survey carried out by
DGRV, the country’s apex body for co-ops,
the sector is facing increasing hurdles
that prevent it from contributing to the
expansion of renewables.
The main challenges are reduced
support payments and the switch to
auctions for licenses for new capacity.
This means financial support is allocated
to renewable energy projects based on
the cost of electricity production, putting
smaller renewable energy co-ops at
“Every investor in wind energy has
to spend up to €100,000 (for each
wind turbine) for project development,
permissions, expert opinions etc. before
he can join a tender,” said Dr Andreas
Wieg of DGRV.
“If they lose the tender then their money
is also lost. A bigger project developer
with some wind projects can share the risk
but a typical energy co-operative has only
one project. That’s the reason why citizen
energy co-ops usually can’t bear the risk.”
The survey revealed only 54% of co-ops
are willing to invest in roof-mounted solar
power systems, due to reduced financial
support for such schemes. The figure
represents a decrease from 71% in 2018.
“This cannot be the political intention,”
said Dr Eckhard Ott, who heads the DGRV.
Germany currently has 869 citizens’
energy co-operatives with a total of
183,000 members. The sector has
invested €2.7bn in renewable energy,
with most co-operatives operating solar
According to the latest figures from
the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy
Systems (ISE), renewable sources
accounted for 47.3% of Germany’s
electricity in the first half of 2019, while
43.4% came from coal and nuclear energy
in this period.
In spite of the increase in the share
of renewable energy, Germany remains
heavily reliant on coal and gas for its
energy needs and continues to account
for half of all coal production in the EU.
The country has set the target of becoming
carbon neutral by 2050.
Cooperatives Europe responds to Ursula von der Leyen’s election
Cooperatives Europe has congratulated
the new president of the European
Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who
was elected on 16 June.
The first woman to lead the
commission, Ms Von der Leyen comes
from the centre-right European People’s
Party and has served as German defence
minister. She is due to start on 1 November
2019 for a five-year term, taking over
from current Commission president,
Cooperatives Europe said it looked
forward to working with Ms Von der
Leyen. The apex body said many of the
political priorities that will frame the
work of the Commission are aligned with
its key priorities set out in the strategy
paper Cooperative future for Europe: will
you be part of it?
Speaking to the Parliament, Ms Von der
Leyen detailed her vision and political
priorities. She said she wanted to make
Europe the first climate-neutral continent
by 2050, work with MEPs to strengthen
democracy and ensure a fair social market
economy in Europe.
After being nominated by EU member
states, she was elected with 383 votes in
favour, with 327 against, and 22 abstained
and one not valid.
Jean-Louis Bancel, president of
Cooperatives Europe, said: “We welcome
Ursula von der Leyen’s vision of tomorrow’s
Europe and reaffirm our willingness to
work closely with the representatives
of the European Commission to ensure
a sustainable Europe that puts people
Cooperatives Europe will focus on
engaging with the commission around
the European Pillar of Social Rights,
entrepreneurship policies and an
environmentally sustainable economy.
The apex body highlighted that as
people-centred enterprises, co-operatives
have demonstrated their strength in
establishing competitive businesses
while putting people first. It advocates for
a level playing field among all enterprises
and supports policy measures in the SME
strategy that aim to support innovative
companies such as co-operatives and
other social economy enterprises.
p Ursula von der Leyen
18 | SEPTEMBER 2019
profits is a challenge
for Irish credit unions
– despite asset growth
Low interest rates and slow loan growth
stand in the way of profits in the Irish
credit union sector, despite record assets,
says the country’s Central Bank.
The report also points to consolidation
in the sector, resulting in fewer and larger
credit unions. There are now 246 – down
from 388 in 2014. Of these, 109 have less
than €40m (£36m) in assets and 55 have
at least €100m (£91.5m).
This is contributing to an average loan
to asset ratio of 28% – a historic low for
the sector, which is affecting income.
Total income for the sector was €293m
(£268m) in the six months to 31 March
2019, mostly from loan interest and
investment income. Expenses across the
industry were €218m (£200m).
In response, some credit unions have
been restricting deposits or increasing
lending, with the report indicating “an
increase in credit risk appetite”.
Credit unions face challenges “in the
context of a rapidly-evolving external
environment and in meeting member
expectations for choice, access and speed
of decision-making”, said Patrick Casey,
registrar of credit unions.
“Changes are required to the traditional
credit union business model to meet those
needs. The financial metrics presented in
the financial conditions report should be
considered in that context.”
Some credit unions are also exposed to
the risks of Brexit, with “42 community
credit unions with total assets of €1.98bn
(£1.8bn) and total membership of around
406,000 ... operating in the counties
along the border with Northern Ireland,”
said the report.
But it added that credit unions enjoy
a competitive difference, with a highly
respected brand, member loyalty and
a member-centric ethos.
Cuna Mutual gets experimental with fintech
Credit unions in the USA will be able
to test fintech solutions through a new
catalyst incubator. The initiative comes
from CMFG, a venture capital arm of sector
service organisation Cuna Mutual Group
and industry thinktank Filene Research
Institute. The FinTech Catalyst Incubator
will test fintech and insurtech products
aimed at helping credit unions grow.
Data breach prompts security offer at Desjardins
Canadian financial co-op Desjardins
is offering members protection against
identity theft, making it the first financial
institution in Canada to offer such
coverage to all members at no cost. In
June, Desjardins announced that an
unauthorised use of internal data by an
employee had led to the breach of personal
information of 2.7 million members.
Rwandan trade minister expresses support for co-ops
Rwanda’s trade and industry minister
Soraya Hakuziyaremye has paid visits
to three co-operatives in Kigali, praising
their transparent management and
sustainable growth. The minister,
on a fact-finding tour to learn what
co-operatives are doing and how the
government can support them, said they
showed that people could achieve more by
Gina Fusco new chair of ICMIF Intelligence Committee
Gina Fusco, director of strategy and
marketing at NFU Mutual, has been
elected chair of the Intelligence Committee
of the International Cooperative and
Mutual Insurance Federation (ICMIF).
A sub-committee of the board of directors,
the group is made up of global senior
executives from 24 member organisations.
Calgary Co-op scraps plastic bags at some stores
Filling stations and liquor stores run by
Calgary Co-op in Canada are replacing
plastic bags with compostable alternatives.
The move extends a commitment to
reducing plastic by the co-operative, which
saw it introduce the 10 cent compostable
bags to its grocery stores on 22 April
- Earth Day.
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 19
Fonterra dairy co-op predicts
possible $675m loss – and no dividend
New Zealand dairy co-op Fonterra says
it will report a loss of up to NZ$675m
(£354m) next month, citing adjustments
for its South American businesses,
drought in Australia and increased
Chief executive Miles Hurrell said a full
review of the business across the year, and
work on the financial report for the year
to 31 July, had made it clear that Fonterra
needs to reduce the carrying value of
several of its assets and take account of
other one-off accounting adjustments,
which total approximately $820-860m.
He added: “While the Co-op’s FY19
underlying earnings range is within the
current guidance of 10-15 cents per share,
when you take into consideration these
likely write-downs, we expect to make
a reported loss of $590-675m this year,
which is a 37 to 42 cent loss per share.”
No dividend will be paid for the financial
year, which chair John Monaghan said
was “part of our stated intention to reduce
the co-op’s debt, which is in everybody’s
Mr Hurrel said: “Since September 2018
we’ve been re-evaluating all investments,
major assets and partnerships to ensure
they still meet the co-operative’s needs.
We are leaving no stone unturned in the
work to turn our performance around.
“We have taken a hard look at our endto-end
business, including selling and
reviewing the future of a number of assets
that are no longer core to our strategy.
The review process has also identified a
small number of assets that we believe are
overvalued, based on the outlook for their
expected future returns.”
He added that farmers and unit
holders would be updated with new
information as it became available,
and that the numbers still need to be
finalised and audited. Most of the oneoff
accounting adjustments relate to
non-cash impairment charges on four
specific assets and the divestments that
Fonterra has made this year as part of the
“DPA Brazil, the New Zealand consumer
business, China Farms and Australian
Ingredients’ performance have been
improving, but slower than expected and
not at the level we had based our previous
carrying values on,” said Mr Hurrell.
“Our accounting valuation for DPA
Brazil will be impaired by approximately
$200m. This change is mainly due to the
economic conditions in Brazil. While they
are improving, consumer confidence and
employment rates are not at the level
required to support the sales volumes and
price points our forecast cashflows were
“As a result of the previously announced
sale of our Venezuelan consumer business,
and the closing of our small Venezuelan
Ingredients business, due to the country’s
economic and political instability, we
have made an accounting adjustment of
approximately $135m relating primarily
to the release of the adverse accumulated
foreign currency translation reserve.
“Our carrying value for China Farms
will be impaired by approximately $200m
due to the slower than expected operating
performance. While the extent in which
we participate is under strategic review,
the fresh milk category in China continues
to look promising and is growing.
“In our New Zealand consumer business,
the compounding effect of operational
challenges, along with a slower than
planned recovery in our market share
has resulted in us reassessing its future
earnings. We are now rebuilding this
business and, as part of this, have sold Tip
Top which allows the team to focus on its
core business. The combined impact is a
write-down of approximately $200m.
“Our Australian Ingredients business
is adapting to the new norm of continued
drought, reduced domestic milk supply
and aggressive competition in the
Australian dairy industry. This includes
closing our Dennington factory, which
combined with writing off the goodwill in
Australia Ingredients, results in a one-off
impact of approximately $70m.”
Mr Hurrell added that “these are tough
but necessary decisions we need to make
to reflect today’s realities”, and accepted
that “farmers and unit holders will be
rightly frustrated by these write-downs”.
“I want to reassure them that they
do not, in any way, impact our ability
to continue to operate,” he said. “Our
cashflow remains strong, our debt has
reduced and the underlying performance
of the business for FY19 is in-line
with our latest earnings guidance of
10-15 cents per share. We remain on
track with our other targets relating
to reducing capital expenditure and
There has been some negative reaction
from members. South Otago dairy farmer
and Federated Farmers dairy chairman
Mat Korteweg told the New Zealand
Herald: “Last year we were told to expect
a turnaround. For an average farmer
with 200,000 shares, no expectation
of a dividend is significant, as would
have been money that was reinvested
either into operations or reducing debt.”
u Spotlight on agriculture, 28-39
20 | SEPTEMBER 2019
co-ops celebrated at
sector’s annual awards
Agri-tech co-operative the Livestock
Improvement Corporation (LIC) has been
named New Zealand’s Co-op Business
of the Year.
LIC also won a joint award with dairy
co-op Fonterra, for their data-sharing
The Cooperative Business NZ Annual
Awards were presented in Wellington at
an event hosted by national sector body
Cooperative Business NZ.
LIC picked up its gong for developing
world-leading biosecurity protection from
the drug-resistant bacteria Mycoplasma
bovis, among many other achievements.
Cooperative Business NZ CEO
Craig Presland said the Waikatobased,
110-year-old agri-tech and herd
improvement co-operative exemplified
co-operative values and highlighted the
strengths of the enduring business model.
“LIC tells, arguably, the biggest success
story among New Zealand’s co-operatives
in the last 18 months,” he said.
“It is a stand-out example of a modern,
progressive co-op, which has to operate
at the leading edge of its field in dairy
genetics and agri-tech to keep its farmer
shareholders ahead of the game.
“Co-ops are member-owned as opposed
to investor-owned, with Kiwi shareholders
having skin in the game. The co-op
business model is part of our nation’s DNA
so it’s appropriate that LIC has won this
year’s Co-operative Business of the Year.”
Co-operative Leader of the Year
went to Carl Taylor, co-founder of oneyear-old
start-up Combined Building
Mr Taylor, a Christchurch-based builder,
set up the building supplies co-op in
April 2018 to offer a level playing field for
smaller and medium-sized construction
businesses, which do not have the buying
power or bigger rivals.
“To date, they have brought together
more than 160 SME trade businesses so
that their combined spending means
bigger discounts for CBS Co-op’s
members,” said Mr Presland, who called
for a similar co-op game-changer to solve
the country’s housing crisis.
The Co-operation Amongst Co-ops
Award, named after the sixth Rochdale
Principle, was shared by LIC and Fonterra
for Agrigate, a data-sharing and exchange
platform for farmers.
Mr Presland said Agrigate was first
envisaged five years ago by the late John
Wilson, former chair of Fonterra, and
Murray King, chair of LIC. They recognised
that farmers increasingly employ a
number of digital tools, all working
independently of one another rather than
“The co-operation of LIC and Fonterra
demonstrates their joint and genuine
understanding of what it means to be a cooperative
– working in collaboration as a
way of meeting members’ needs,” added
The award for Outstanding Co-operative
Contribution went to Rob Hewett, former
chair of Silver Fern Farms (SFF) future
chair of Farmlands.
Craig Presland said Mr Hewett, who
farms in South Otago’s Manuka Gorge,
has led a range of initiatives including
increasing SFF’s board diversity and
working with China’s Shanghai Maling
to restore SFF’s balance sheet, “while
protecting the essence of the co-operative
and the voice of its shareholders”.
The Enduring Service Award went
to SBS Bank, New Zealand’s oldest co-op,
which celebrates its 150th anniversary this
year. Established in 1869, the Southland
bank is believed to be the first building
society in the world to have achieved bank
registration, in 2008, while retaining its
Mr Presland said the member-owned
bank ensures profits are re-distributed
back to customers and therefore retained
locally, or invested into local communities
– “unlike our four major retail banks, all
Australian-owned, whereby a portion
of their profits is transferred offshore”.
p Above: Carl Taylor (CSB Co-op), Emma Parsons (CEO of Agrigate), Murray King (LIC) and Rob
Hewett (Silver Fern Farms) at the awards ceremony. Below: An LIC employee. Credit: LIC
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 21
Meet … Brandi
Stankovic of CU
Dr Brandi Stankovic is strategic advisory services
senior vice president at CU Solutions Group, a
credit union service organisation in the USA. An
executive coach, she works with credit union
executives, touching on issues such as member
satisfaction, strategic thinking and growth. She
also hosts the leadership podcast Strategic Hotbox.
In March she facilitated a townhall consultation
process at the Association of British Credit Unions
(Abcul) conference, looking at the future of the
British movement, and she led sessions at the
recent World Credit Union Conference.
WHEN DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN CREDIT UNIONS?
I’ve been involved in the sector for about 20 years.
I have worked inside a credit union and from a
business partner or supplier perspective; I am
heavily involved in the industry in the USA and
globally, through the World Council of Credit
Unions (Woccu). I really believe in the movement.
ARE THE CHALLENGES FACED BY CREDIT UNIONS
IN THE UK SIMILAR TO THOSE IN THE USA?
There are three main ones. Firstly, in technology
and the impact it has on financial services,
particularly the ability of an institution to leverage
technology, update legacy systems and increase
the literacy of their staff.
The second would be enterprise vs management,
and that’s a broader, more strategic focus of
risk – not just a market risk like liquidity, but
strategic reputation and compliance risk. Those are
overlooked by examiners and can cause the greater
losses to an institution.
The third is governance. Here the challenges
are both internal – from a succession, young
AS AN INDUSTRY,
WE’RE BETTER TOGETHER,
leadership and personal development standpoint –
and strategic, since good governance and structure
is essential for leadership.
I admire what is happening here with Abcul
who organised a townhall to discuss relevance,
purpose, sustainability and co-operation – these
are the keys to success for all credit unions across
the world. I was very thankful to be part of it.
WHAT COULD THE UK SECTOR LEARN FROM THE
USA ON SERVICE ORGANISATIONS?
There is a wide range of what service organisations
can provide and the USA is further down the line in
that. CU Solutions Group is a service organisation,
made up of 100 different investors, credit union
service organisations and credit unions. They
come together in a co-op way to provide, create and
develop leading-edge solutions.
At the most micro level, it could involve a credit
union which happens to be very good at collections;
they could offer those collection services to other
credit unions. At a broader scale, with CU Solutions
we might focus on issues such as technology,
marketing, HR and advisory services.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR UK CREDIT UNIONS
THAT ARE CASH-RICH? ARE ANY CREDIT UNIONS
IN THE USA IN SIMILAR POSITIONS?
A greater breath of product service offerings will
strengthen them. My advice would be to educate
the membership on existing offerings, take a look
at the member service experience and make the
22 | SEPTEMBER 2019
lending process as frictionless as possible. If you
can only offer unsecured personal loans, then it
had better be easy to get that unsecured personal
loan – and look at the full member relationship, not
just the credit score.
Credit unions in the US are in that same boat;
in their case, it’s about really making sure they’re
tapping into two emerging markets through
product positioning. So to somebody in the baby
boomer generation it might be an unsecured loan
for home improvement; for somebody in a younger
demographic it could help them prepare for the
next chapter in their life, for example, education or
starting a family.
TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR WORK WITH WOCCU
There are two programmes I’m involved in. The
first is the Global Women’s Leadership Network,
which started in 2009 in Barcelona. It is a network
of women who are looking to make a measurable
difference by doing professional and personal
development, as well as making an impact in the
community. We’re in many different countries
around the world.
I have been involved as a USA ambassador, which
means I help different sister societies be created
– we call them chapters – or local extensions of
the network. There are many chapters all over
the world and that has helped the growth of the
network. Those chapters include both men and
women because the network is about diversity and
inclusion and ensuring that women are part of a
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE NETWORK?
We’re trying to get a sister society created here in the
UK. Beth Walsh, business development manager at
Pioneer Mutual Credit Union in Barrhead is leading
some of the efforts here in the UK around it. So key
issues on our agenda are expanding, continuing the
prevalence of the message, ensuring it stays top of
mind and increasing opportunities, scholarships,
and grants for women in all countries.
HOW ARE YOU ENGAGED IN THE WORLD CREDIT
UNION YOUNG PROFESSIONALS (WYCUP)?
The WYCUP programme is focused on education,
events and networking. We encourage any of
the readers of Co-op News, if they have young
professionals networks in their areas, to loop into
WYCUP because we have a lot of local affiliates. If
you’re doing something in your area we’d like to
news Issue #7310 AUGUST 2019
Connecting, championing, challenging
What is it –
and why does
Plus … 100 years
of the Channel Islands
Co-operative ... Coop
the issue of capital
9 770009 982010
THERE SHOULD BE NO PLACE FOR
SCOTTISH POWER IN CO-OP GROUP
I notice that the Co-op Group has hosted
promotions by Scottish Power in its stores.
My thoughts on this issue are really
around my sadness at the Group’s actions
in promoting a non-co-operative business
when a co-operative alternative of equal or
better quality is available.
I am particularly sad as Scottish Power
does not have a good reputation in the
market place and the Group is offering its
members and customers a lower quality
alternative sold by individuals who have
been observed using high pressure and
emotional sales practices in its stores.
Our sixth principle, Co-operation
Amongst Co-operatives, emphasises the
value of solidarity and calls on co-ops to
serve their members most effectively and
strengthen the co-op movement by working
together with other co-operatives at local,
national, regional and international levels.
In choosing a lower quality nonco-operative
alternative, the Group fails
the test set out by our values of openness,
social responsibility and caring for others
... it fails its members and its communities.
It is time for the Group to step up!
STUDY ARGUES DESJARDINS HAS LOST ITS
CO-OP MISSION (NEWS, AUGUST)
I was able to visit the Desjaredins general
assembly four months ago. Members
motioned the closure of branches due to
high expenses associated with them.
Fewer people go to branches to do any
transactions; the caisse have no choice
but to evolve with today’s needs, and they
did take members into consideration.
Even if the branch is closed, Desjardins
still provides transportation service for the
people who are not connected to or do not
want to use the internet.
I believe they are just growing with 21st
century ideas. A co-op model has to adapt
to the community needs.
Juan P. Mo
Co-op News has contacted the Group
about the Scottish Power promotions.
A spokesperson from the Group said: “The
energy companies are no longer in store,
and the feedback received will be discussed
with the agency which works with Co-op to
manage third-party promotional activity in
a small number of our stores.”
WHY CO-OP CITIES FROM CLEVELAND TO
PRESTON ARE A RADICAL IDEA
Reading your review of Marjorie Kelly and
Ted Howard’s The Making of a Democratic
Economy (News, August), I wonder how
many people in the co-op scene recognise
that they are promoting anarchosyndicalism.
That’s a good thing.
Lee Stuart Sianos
C0-OP FOOD IS A TOP SUPERMARKET FOR
CUSTOMER SATISFATION (NEWS, AUGUST)
This customer’s satisfaction is falling, as
my local Co-op store is stocking less and
less Co-op products.
Have your say
Add your comments to our stories
online at thenews.coop, get in touch
via social media, or send us a letter.
If sending a letter, please include
your address and contact number.
Letters may be edited and no longer
than 350 words.
Co-operative News, Holyoake
House, Hanover Street,
Manchester M60 0AS
24 | SEPTEMBER 2019
Co-operative College centenary year:
CWS and Agriculture
As part of a regular monthly feature throughout the Co-operative College’s centenary year, archivist
Sophie McCulloch explores interesting items from the past. This month we’re looking at agriculture and
how the Co-operative Wholesale Society grew to be known as Britain’s biggest farm service, with more
than 80,000 acres of land in its possession.
From its beginnings, the co-operative movement
prided itself in taking positive steps to improve
its situation by finding practical solutions to any
issues that arose. This was certainly the case for
the Co-operative Wholesale Society and its journey
CWS opened its jam and preserve works at
Middleton, Manchester, in 1896. Jam making,
of course, requires a large supply of fruit, but
instead of turning to others to supply this, the CWS
took its first steps into farming by purchasing land
with the intention of growing its own fruit.
The first piece of land the CWS purchased was in
the village of Roden, Shropshire, which comprised
several farms and associated buildings. The land
also came with a small manor house that was
opened as a convalescent home a few years later.
The Roden estate was purchased in June 1896 at
a cost of £30,000.
In 1904, the CWS bought more fruit farms in
Herefordshire to meet the increasing needs of the
jam factory and other parts of the business. Four
years later, a depot and further land was purchased
at Wisbech, in the Cambridgeshire Fens and in 1913
a farm in Whalley, Lancashire was added to the
portfolio for the purpose of cattle farming. By 1918
the CWS had more than 32,000 acres of farmland
throughout the UK and Ireland.
At the Co-operative Congress of 1909, the
setting up of the CWS Agricultural Department
was proposed. This was to be an organising
department to bring together the growing number
of agricultural co-operative societies in need of
a wholesaler. After extensive discussions, the
department was established in 1914. Over the
years it was able to help and advise agricultural
societies with any issues they had.
In addition to agriculture, the CWS was involved
in horticulture, with seed testing ground in
Derbyshire, whose seeds were sold in co-operative
By the 1950s, the CWS was known as ‘Britain’s
Biggest Farm Service’ with more than 80,000 acres
of land in its possession, either directly owned
By the end of the 20th century, the CWS had
become the Co-op Group and its farm service had
been radically restructured, becoming part of
the Food Retail Division and more focused on a
sustainable approach towards farming, in line with
its other ethical initiatives.
Consumer co-operative societies were also active
in agriculture. For example, the Royal Arsenal
Co-operative Society purchased a farm in the
1880s to facilitate the supply and delivery of
milk. The society also acquired 170 acres when
it bought the Bostall Farm and Suffolk Place
Estate in 1887 and 1889. In the Midlands, the
Birmingham, Ten Acres & Stirchley, and Codnor
Park & Ironville Societies had extensive farmland,
purchased to supply products to meet the needs
of the members.
To this day, the Co-operative College continues
to work heavily in agriculture, training thousands
of farmers in countries including Malawi, Zambia
and Rwanda. More information about this is
available at www.co-op.ac.uk/international
Archivist at the
about the College and
how you can get involved
in its centenary year is
Below: CWS seed testing
ground in Derby
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 25
By Anca Voinea
What’s on the agenda at the
ICA conference in Kigali?
Co-operators from around the world will meet in
Kigali, capital of the Republic of Rwanda, on 14-17
October for the ICA Global Conference – Co-operatives
Organised by the International Co-operative
Alliance (ICA) in partnership with the Rwandan
government and co-operative movement, the
conference will feature several high-level speakers,
including Rwandan president Paul Kagame.
The four-day event opens with an inaugural
ceremony on Monday evening led by Ariel Guarco,
president of the International Cooperative Alliance,
and Soraya Hakuziyaremeye, Rwanda’s minister
of trade and industry.
Mr Kagame will welcome delegates to Kigali on
Tuesday, 15 October, along with Mr Guarco, ICA-Africa
president Japheth Magomere, and Nicola Bellomo,
ambassador of the delegation of the European Union
The opening session will be followed by a keynote
address from environmental activist Dr Vandana
Shiva, who will look at how co-ops can help to achieve
a more solidarity-based and participatory society.
The Delhi-based academic has written more than
20 books, specialising in agriculture and food, and
has also campaigned on issues such as intellectual
property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology,
bioethics, and genetic engineering.
Next, delegates will have a choice of four parallel
sessions exploring the role of co-operatives in
achieving the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable
development. The sessions will look at how to tackle
inequalities through the co-operative movement,
touching on issues such as women’s empowerment,
innovation in entrepreneurship and inclusive ethical
The conference will continue with a keynote speech
by Mohammed Sajid, from the Ministry of Tourism,
Air Transport, Handicrafts and Social Economy,
who will focus on promoting the preservation of the
environment in Africa and beyond.
In the evening, a series of documentaries about
co-operatives in different parts of the world will be
screened at the Co-op Cinema. The documentaries
were created by researcher Sara Vicari and filmmaker
Andrea Mancori from aroundtheworld.coop.
On Wednesday, 16 October, the morning
plenary will discuss sustainable development
through employment creation and decent work
for all. This will be followed by a plenary on
co-operatives and value chains and their impact from
a developmental perspective. Later, participants
can choose one of four parallel sessions exploring
how co-ops from different sectors – housing, energy,
healthcare and industry – play a role in development.
In the evening, delegates are invited to attend a
gala dinner which will feature the Rochdale Pioneers
The final day begins with a plenary session on
the contributions of co-ops to equality, peace, and
sustainability with case studies and examples from
around the world.
For the final session, a panel of speakers will
be asked to summarise discussions held over the
course of the conference, and to elaborate policy
The day will resume with the General Assembly
of the International Co-operative Alliance, which is
open to ICA members. The General Assembly will
begin at 14:00 local time and is expected to adjourn
by 18:30 local time.
The conference will have an exhibition area where
delegates can meet, network, promote their work and
share best practices with other co-ops.
For those keen to explore Kigali, the organisers are
running a series of tours to give them the chance to
lean more about the local history and the role of the
co-operative movement in the country’s economy.
Dr Vandana Shiva,
Ariel Guarco and
26 | SEPTEMBER 2019
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 27
Spotlight on farming
Climate change, sustainability, competition,
volatile prices and Brexit are all putting
agriculture under pressure. What can co-ops do?
The co-op movement is committed to the UN’s sustainable development goals - the
second of which is “zero hunger”, calling for the world to be fed – in a sustainable
manner. It’s ambitious goal, balancing a fair and reliable food supply with the need
to tackle climate change and protect forestry and other delicate ecosystems.
This adds to pressure on an global industry which faces environmental changes,
price volatility, technological advances and fierce market competition. Here, we
look at how agri co-ops are prepared for some of the key issues of the day ...
ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY
Severe weather incidents – linked by many to
climate change – are affecting farmers around
the world; last year European dairy co-op Arla
announced it was giving all its profits to farmers hit
by drought and in the US, farm co-ops are taking
measures to help members affected by floods.
In Thailand last month, the ministry of agriculture
and co-operatives announced a programme of
assistance for drought-stricken farmers.
Deputy minister Thammanat Prompao, said
this would mean filling reservoirs through rainmaking
aircraft, and using army technicians to drill
for groundwater. The government will also offer
compensation and debt relief to farmers.
Meanwhile, in India’s Karnataka, Kerala,
Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Goa regions,
farmers are being given help after severe floods.
Alongside mitigation comes prevention.
In India, stubble burning has been a major factor
in severe air pollution affecting cities like Delhi –
but farmers’ co-ops in Haryana, Punjab, UP and NCR
have worked together to reduce the practice.
Trilochan Mohapatra, director general of the
Indian Council of Agricultural Research, says
the coordinated effort by the co-ops saw a huge
reduction in crop residue burning last year – with
nearly 3,500 co-op in the state of Punjab alone
working to check stubble burning in 8,000 paddy
Livestock farming is a particular area of concern,
with the UN estimating that it accounts for 18%
of the greenhouse gases that contribute to
global warming. As reported in Co-op News, agri
co-op organisations like the Scottish Agricultural
Organisation Society (SAOS) are working with
researchers to develop more sustainable animal
feed which will lower emissions.
But co-ops elsewhere have been accused of
being too slow to take up the baton – for instance
By Miles Hadfield
Below: Burning of rice
residues after harvest,
to quickly prepare
the land for wheat
India. Credit: Neil
28 | SEPTEMBER 2019
in Ireland, where farm co-ops have been urged to
promote the use of protected urea and low-protein
meal. Denis Drennan, chair of the Irish Creamery
Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), said: “We’re
beginning to become a little concerned about the
disconnect between co-ops’ stated position on
the need for more climate-efficient farming and
“Increased use of lime and protected urea on
farms alongside using meals with lower crude
protein contents at grass are areas we should focus
on to lower greenhouse gas emissions on farms.
“We do not consider any of those changes to
be controversial among farmers – but we need
co-op support, particularly at the ‘sales’ end, to
encourage their uptake.”
The chairman said that, while there has been
lots of “noisy agreement” from cooperatives on
changes that will have to be made, “at store level
we’re just not seeing the sales staff actively offering
the environmentally safer products and giving
the farmers the positive choices that they should
“We keep seeing sales staff selling feed with
a 16% to 18% crude protein content, when Teagasc
is telling us that 10% to 12% is more than adequate
when at grass.
“Let’s start seeing feed with that content being
really pushed, because that’s an ‘easy win’ for
farmers,” said Drennan.
“There is a perception of a conflict of interest
among co-ops where – on one hand they want to
see milk produced more sustainably, but on the
other hand strive to make easy sales.
“It is only to be expected that individual
salespeople are more concentrated on reaching
their targets rather than offering their customers
the best options that we all know must be actively
promoted,” he continued.
Drennan said that while the ICMSA supports
other climate-friendly measures such as solar
panels and variable speed pumps, there was a prior
need to get the basics right in terms of what was fed
“We need to see the co-ops really pushing and
actively promoting feeds with less crude protein
while at grass, and the spreading of protected
urea. And that message has to go down to the sales
staff,” said Drennan.
In New Zealand, leading dairy co-op Fonterra has
pledged action. The government has introduced
a Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)
Amendment Bill which aims for a 10% reduction in
biological methane by 2030, and 47% by 2050.
Fonterra said it was ‘committed to doing its bit’
in New Zealand’s transition to a low-carbon future
but warned about the challenges this would bring
to the farming industry.
CEO Miles Hurrell said: “Kiwi farmers are already
some of the most emission efficient producers of
milk in the world, but the fact is that nearly half of
New Zealand’s greenhouse gases come from the
wider agriculture sector.
“We do not consider any
of those changes to be
controversial among farmers
– but we need co-op support,
particularly at the ‘sales’ end,
to encourage their uptake”
“Our actions today will keep New Zealand at the
forefront of sustainable food production. We know
this means some of the ways we farm will need
to change. Fonterra farmers are adaptable and
resourceful people. Once set a clear science-based
target, they will want to get on with the job and the
co-op will be there to support them.
Above: A worker in an
agricultural field in,
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 29
“It’s not going to be easy. It will require farmers,
industry, government and researchers to all pitchin
and jointly develop innovative, yet practical
solutions for New Zealand’s emissions reduction
challenges. The increased investment in research
and development signalled by the government and
industry is key to bringing new innovations to life.”
Fonterra argues the 2050 target should be based
on official scientific advice and set at the lower
end of the proposed range – and wants it regularly
reviewed against the science and options available
In the UK, sector body Co-operatives UK has
been working with the Esmee Fairbarn Foundation
– which makes grants to socially beneficial
organisations – to try to put more support in place
for agri co-ops.
Richard Self, agriculture manager at
Co-operatives UK, says Esmee has been focused on
sustainability and wants to carry out research on
how co-ops can help.
“I think it's something we’ve got to look at more,”
he says. “Co-ops need to give leadership to their
members. Members don't always know what's in
their best interest – professional leaders should
look at the market, look at what’s happening
and say this is where you need to be, this where
you should be going. Part of that is sustainable
production and what better way to do that than
CO-OPERATION VS COMPETITION
“In France, grain co-ops do better because they
own their whole supply chains, their own
mills; if you are going to wave goodbye to your
crop at the door you get the bottom price but
if you control your marketing through a co-op
you're in a stronger position”
The threat of large-scale factory farmers is a real
one for traditional farmers; recently, Eamon Corley
of Ireland’s Beef Plan Movement – a farmerled
campaign to restructure the industry – told
broadcasters the country’s “family farms will be
replaced by factory farms similar to what is in South
America ... Beef farmers are being driven off the
land and we see the problem has been created by
Mr Self says strong multinational competitors
are also a concern in the UK – which lags behind
Europe when it comes to the size of its agri
“We’ve been working with Esmee Fairbarn on
a project to help farmers with co-operation,” he
says. “In terms of market share for co-ops we’re
way out of step with the rest of Europe, and the
rest of the world as well. We don’t make use of
co-operatives like our colleagues do in Europe.
“Our low market share gives the multi nationals
who dominate the market the power to put prices
up or down – and they’ve got no real competition.
“I argued for some support from Esmee Fairbairn
to help with that, and they have asked for research
to show how we’re not making use of the co-op
model, to demonstrate that it has benefits, and to
show how we can go about improving it.”
To that end, Co-operatives UK has commissioned
independent research, due in October, from the
Royal Agricultural University, to support its case for
more support for new and existing agri co-ops.
“There’s evidence that co-ops help farmers
reduce volatility in price and improve returns,” says
Mr Self. “What we don’t want to do is set up loads
of new co-ops that are in competition with existing
ones – but where we identify a need, we can help
develop new businesses.
“From a cost effectiveness point of view, if you
want to grow the co-op market share the best way is
to help existing ones develop. A lot of them are very
risk averse and tend to settle into a situation where
they provide a reasonable service to members and
aren't interested in growth – which is fine if that's
the right thing to do.
Mr Self is also keen to improve perception
of co-operatives, with the agri sector hit by some
high profile failures.
“Some people are being negative about
co-operatives because of a few bad examples,” he
30 | SEPTEMBER 2019
says, “but statistically Co-ops have a much better
survival rate than an ordinary businesses so we
need to show them all the positives case studies
as well. If we can get some more support funding
we can do that.”
Governance is key to improving this repution,
he argues. “We want to help co-ops review their
governance on a systematic basis and not get
He adds: “Some farmers don’t want to get involved
because it’s too much hassle, too much risk ... but
co-ops, unlike individual farmers, have more power
in the supply chain and can negotiate better deals;
a farmer working alone has to take the price he
“In France, grain co-ops do better because they
often own their whole supply chain, and have their
own mills; if you are going to wave goodbye to your
crop at the door you get the bottom price but if you
control your marketing through a co-op you're in
a stronger position.”
Ruth Edge, chief food chain adviser at the
National Farmers Union, says the industry faces
“hugely challenging times – there’s been huge
uncertainty in the market and obviously that will
affect some sectors more than others”.
And farmers are “under more scrutiny than
ever”. she adds, with pressure on issues such
as the environment, animal welfare, traceability
Collaboration “definitely plays a part” in helping
farmers cope with these challenges, she says,
allowing them to work together to pool resources
and establish benchmarking of standards.
“We wouldn’t necessarily stipulate a co-op
over another format for collaboration, such as a
producer organisation or informal buying group, but
co-ops would definitely be a part of this process”.
Asked why the UK lags behind Europe when
it comes to co-operative organisation, she says:
“Certainly, if you look at what’s been acheived
on the continent we haven’t seen that same
take-up within the UK – there are some cultural
“And there are some challenges; we are
articulating the benefits of those different
collaborative set-ups to producers but the process
can seem a bit big and bureaucratic and scary.
There are some loops to got through to set up a
co-op, so you might question why you’d want to do
it – but there are benefits.”
To help farmers form co-ops, Ms Edge says “some
kind of support would help” but it’s also important
to demonstrate “concrete reasons” for them to
make the move – whether this is to access funding,
deliver efficiency savings, or offer a route to a new
Another consequence of Brexit is that a that
agriculture ministry Defra has had to delay a £10m
fund to support farmer collaboration, announced
three years ago, to put civil servants onto
“We’ve been very positive about that fund,”
says Ms Edge. “We're frustrated it still hasn't
come to fruition; we still have not had that money
Mr Self is also keen to see the collaboration fund
move into action.
“They’re starting to pick up on it a bit,” he says.
“This is something I’ve been arguing for since the
referendum, is to say that post Brexit we're going
to need better stronger co-operatives and we need
some support to make it happen.
“In Scotland co-operation is stronger because
they have the Scottish Agricultural Organisation
Society; it shows if you support co-operation for a
long time, it will thrive - and this is what we want
Defra to do.”
He hopes the fund will open in spring or summer
next year, “which would fit nicely with the Esmee
project”, adding: “In five years time I’d like to see
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 31
a scheme to support farm coops in all their forms,
an increased market share – and an agriculture
industry that is surviving.”
“ There are so many variables
when it comes to pricing
commodities but they have
always been there, we just
have to make sure we have
the best produce, priced
correctly. We all have to
perform to the best of our
ability, and I believe we can
This a concern post-Brexit, says Mr Self. “If they
go for zero tariffs on incoming products it will be
very significant for the sector; a lot of farmers will
not survive that – but also we won’t be a member
of the Common Agricultural Policy and the direct
payments farmers are getting could go away to
nothing by 2025.
“If you take away those payments, something
like 80% of farmers could be losing money. We’ll
be paying high tariffs on expects, we'll have zero
tariffs on imports to reduce food inflation in the
supermarket, plus the removal of payments.”
This situation could stimulate farm co-ops, he
adds. “One reason why we haven't co-operated
so much is because we haven't needed to. Now
farmers are talking about the need to co-operate
more after Brexit. We need to try to use Brexit as an
opportunity - we've got a lot of workshops as part of
research project, to get farmers to think about how
they can work together and have a bigger impact.”
Cecilia Pryce, head of compliance, shipping and
research at grain marketing and arable inputs co-op
Openfield, says there are serious concerns around
Brexit but sounds an optimistic note.
“EU and UK cereals have been trading as an
international commodity for a number of years. If
somebody’s hungry, they’ll pay for grain if it’s the
correct price. If something’s cheaper elsewhere
they’ll go somewhere else. But we in the UK have
full traceability, a fully assured product, fantastic
varieties and can provide most of the things
international buyers want. As much as Europe is
currently and historically has been, our major export
destination, there are other global alternatives.”
But there are still hurdles: if Openfield ships to
more distant markets, economies of scale mean
the ships’ sizes are likely to get bigger – which
could involve switching logistics to deep sea grain
ports away from smaller facilities currently used for
nearby EU shipping.
“There will be a logistics change but I don’t
believe it will be a disaster,” she says. “Yes, there
will be a bigger haulage cost for some, but the
Going green: How Organic
Valley has taken its next
The drive for greener, cleaner agriculture has seen
co-ops around the world make a number of energy
commitments – notably European dairy co-op Arla
with its pledge to go zero-carbon.
Now, in the US, farm co-op Organic Valley has
added its own efforts to this sustainability drive.
It has completed work on three community solar
projects which mean it is now 100% powered
The news makes Organic Valley – which has
nearly 2,000 farmer-owners and annual sales of
nearly US$1.2bn – the largest food company in the
world to source all its energy from renewables – in
line with its mission to help build a sustainable
food system for the USA.
The new solar projects are part of the 32 MWdc
Butter Solar Portfolio, owned and operated by
BluEarth Renewables US, which will provide
23,000 people across 10 Midwest communities,
including six in Organic Valley’s portfolio, with
reduced energy costs for more than 25 years.
The sites will feature grazing sheep and
pollinator habitats under the panels.
Organic Valley has worked on the project with
with OneEnergy Renewables and the Upper
Midwest Municipal Energy Group (Ummeg). In late
2018, BluEarth Renewables acquired Butter Solar
and they began construction in January 2019.
In a blog post on its website, Organic Valley said
there were challenges for its team to overcome in
meeting the ambitious 100% target.
“How would they get it done in ‘flyover country’?”
it asked. “How would they focus on this project in
a rural America that so many said was crumbling?
How could they reach such an audacious goal in so
32 | SEPTEMBER 2019
doors aren’t going to close on trade.” What farmers
want, she says, is more certainty as to what and
where their markets will be next year – they have
only a few weeks to decide what to plant for harvest
2020. “It’s a tough time being a farmer,” she adds,
“but if they are willing to engage we can give them
all the information we have.”
Cereal producers could also have to face the
‘unintended consequences’ that may happen to
other sectors of UK agriculture after Brexit. If a trade
deal with the US brings an influx of cheap chicken,
driving UK producers to the wall, grain farmers will
lose a huge market for feed. Conversely, a trade
deal with China could spark a demand for UK pork
exports, stimulating demand for animal feed.
Knowledge is key to handling this volatile
environment, says Ms Pryce. “There are so many
variables when it comes to pricing commodities but
they have always been there, we just have to make
sure we have the best produce, priced correctly.
We all have to perform to the best of our ability,
and I believe we can do it – we just have to be a
bit more streetwise, and be more aware of what's
going on with global prices and how they impact
And against this backdrop, the co-op model
offers farmers an element of security and solidarity,
she says. “I'd like to think it gives them the security
of knowing we look after them. They're individuals,
they're not just numbers. We know who our
members are and we will do our best for them –
global buyers like dealing with first hand grain and
we are here to market their grain the best we can.”
Energy services and technology manager
Stanley Minnick said: “I didn’t know exactly how
it would all work out, but I knew if we just kept
moving forward – and especially if we had the
right partners – we could scale beyond our current
wind, solar and geothermal and get to 100%
The solution came through building a community,
says Organic Valley; it developed its partnerships
with OneEnergy and Ummeg also and brought on
board organisations such as City of Madison, Fresh
Energy, the National Renewable Energy Lab, and
the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund.
“Suddenly,” says Organic Valley, “the project
went beyond Organic Valley’s offices, warehouse
and plants. It meant decades of cheaper energy
from renewable sources for tens of thousands
of rural Americans.”
With solar tariffs due to take effect and the
government preparing to eliminiate tax credits,
the team had to hurry to get the project through on
time, working out power purchase agreements and
renewable energy credits.
But with financial hardship and severe flooding
in the region focusing minds on the benefits of
cheap, clean energy, Organic Valley says the
project picked up more local support. It’s evidence
that community-based, co-operative efforts are an
effective mechanism for driving change.
“People from different backgrounds stepped up.
They started projects of their own, supported by
a group of businesses intent on doing good in the
world. And it’s working. When you drive through
the small town of Viroqua (pop. 4,400), just 15
miles from the solar site, you’ll drive past a National
Co-op Grocers’ food co-operative with solar panels
on its roof, a restaurant that sources almost all of
its food from local farms, and a farmers market that
blows most bigger cities’ markets out of the water.”
It adds: “Rural America has a bright future, and
it’s powered by dreamers and doers who work
together toward big, crazy goals.”
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 33
Driving change from micro to macro
A growing population, climate change, pressure
on agricultural land and widening food inequality
are driving innovation efforts in agriculture.
As previous editions of the News have reported,
agri co-ops are well-placed to push this process
forward because they have to respond to the
needs of the their members and their farmerowners.
Examples include European co-ops in
Copa-Cogeca’s network pushing forward the
“bioeconomy revolution”, the Scottish Agricultural
Organisation Society working with members to
help them improve preservation of soil quality,
and French dairy co-op Sodiaal channeling multimillion
euro grants from the European Investment
Bank into efficiency research.
Here, we look at three examples of co-ops around
the world driving change – from large scale to small.
Small, isolated communities in developing
countries often face difficulties in sourcing and
paying for food – and one solution is small-scale,
sustainable agriculture – operating right down to
In Tanzania, national newspaper The Citizen
recently highlighted a project in Unyangwe,
a village in the Ikungu district of the Singida
region, which has been struggling to feed itself.
For children under the age of two, malnutrition was
a common problem - prompting villagers to take
action by forming co-ops.
The project has seen locals organise vegetable
gardens and small-scale poultry farms and setting
up village community banks to enable the funding
Villagers told the Citizen that vegetable patches
used to be rare sight in the area - but now most
households have them, growing spinach, tomatoes,
kale, courgettes, onions and other veg.
Such small-scale projects are being developed
under the umbrella of UN body World Food
Programme Tanzania. Agnes John, from Ikungu
Municipal Council, which has been working with
WFP Tanzania on the scheme, told the Citizen
that widespread malnutrition had left children
with mineral and vitamin deficiency and stunted
growth, but education around home veg growing
has paid off.
And co-ops have played a crucial role in spreading
the word, allowing villagers to come together and
share experiences and ideas. And by providing
savings and credit services, they also offer them
a mechanism to build a more secure food future
for their community.
THE GRASSROOTS NETWORK
In the UK, Community Supported Agriculture is
a multi-stakeholder co-operative network of farms
which works to connect people with the source
of their food.
The project sees farmers and consumers share the
responsibilities, risks and rewards of agriculture –
which can happen in several ways: through ownership
or investment in the farm or business, sharing
the costs of production, accepting a share in the
harvest, or providing labour.
By Miles Hadfield
Below: The traditional
market of fruits and
vegetables in a rural
part of the island
34 | SEPTEMBER 2019
Most of its farms grow veg but some also
produce eggs, poultry, bread, fruit, pork, lamb, beef
It’s a partnership which gives farmers a more
reliable customer base, a steadier income, and
a closer connection to the community - while those
buying the food can eat more healthily, get closer
to the land and learn new skills.
CSA dates back to a Soil Association project
which created around 80 farms in just five years.
When this scheme ended, CSA farm members
decided to continue as an independent organisation
and launched the network in December 2013.
It now works with Open Food Network,
an online community of producers, distributors
and retailers working for a fairer food system
in the UK, and Eating Better, an alliance of
civil society organisations which have teamed
up to reduce, and improve, the amount
of dairy and meat produced and consumed,
“for health, environment, animal welfare and
u Info: communitysupportedagriculture.org.uk
THE NATIONAL PROGRAMME
In northern Vietnam, farming and forestry are key
industries but because nearly half of householders
own less than a hectare of land, it is hard for them
to earn a living income.
Now, UN agency Forest and Farm Facility (FFF)
is working with the Viet Nam National Farmers’
Union (VNFU) to help these smallholders form
co-ops, in line with the Sustainable Development
Goals – specifically, those aimed at eliminating
poverty, providing decent work and sustainably
The two organisations say that coming together
as co-ops will help smallholders gain organic
certification, invest in new production methods,
improve their negotiating power when making
contracts, and increase the price of their goods.
The initiative has created 14 co-operatives
benefiting directly 650 farmers (45% of them
female), reports the International Press Syndicate
– with incomes rising by 10 to 20%.
FFF and VNFY say co-operation will also help
these smallholders act as stewards of biodiversity,
soil and water, and offer them ways to improve
their resilience, sustainability and productivity.
One of FFF’s key goals is the restoration of forest
environments and the creation of “climateresilient
landscapes”, alongside the alleviation
of hunger, green growth, poverty reduction and
Co-ops include Dao Thinh, a cinnamon producing
co-op which offers training in organic growing,
market analysis and product development.
Its growers have visited trade fairs, cut out
middlemen on the market, and made deals with
buyers in Europe and Japan. They have used
their increased income to lease land to build
a processing plant.
Above: Stroud CSA
produce ready to
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 35
Price wars, demutualisations,
mergers, climate change
Hard times for dairy co-ops?
Last month saw another high-profile casualty in the
dairy co-op sector, as New Zealand’s Westland was
sold to Chinese company Yili.
This follows a turbulent few years for the dairy
industry, with global prices remaining volatile
and fierce competition for markets – while for
those working in the UK and Ireland, there is the
added uncertainty of Brexit, which threatens to
Repercussions for co-ops include the pricing crisis
and subsequent demutualisation of Australia’s
Murray Goulburn – a major, long-standing player in
the sector – and a large number of consolidations.
Last month in the US, the 300-member St Albans
Cooperative Creamery, with farms in Vermont,
New York and New Hampshire, merged with Dairy
Farmers of America, which has 8,100 farms across
the country and is based in Kansas City. It had been
struggling with low milk prices for several years and
saw a net loss of 20 farms from its membership,
leaving it with too low a capacity to compete in
the market. St Albans’s members voted 99% in
favour of the move, which will bring much needed
investment from DFA.
“It is absolutely necessary.
The present situation in
Latvia – 33 dairy co-ops
– in such a small territory
is absurd. It is not the future”
In Ireland, LacPatrick and Lakeland co-op
merged, and Dairygold co-op has cited Brexit
concerns as it signalled its willingness to talk with
potential merger partners.
Such mergers can help co-ops pool resources
and gain more leverage in the market. For
instance, Latvian dairy co-operative Piena Cels
has just announced plans to merge with Estonian
co-op E-Piim so they can jointly invest €100m in
a new dairy plant in Estonia for processing milk.
The plans – backed by EU funds, a bank loan and
private investments – will allow dozens of small
co-ops to improve their market position.
“It is absolutely necessary. The present situation
in Latvia – 33 dairy co-operatives – in such a small
territory is absurd. It is not the future,” said Piena
Cels chair Raimonds Misa.
The troubles affecting the dairy industry are
highlighted by New Zealand dairy co-op Fonterra,
which expects to make a reported loss of NZ$590-
675m (£310-355m) for the year to 31 July.
The loss – which has forced Fonterra to axe this
year’s dividend – comes from a mixture of factors.
The co-op hit trouble with its drive for overseas
expansion, which has seen it close a business in
Venezuela and suffer impairments on a Brazilian
venture. It has also been impacted by domestic
competition and environmental factors, with
a drought hitting its Australian operations.
Drought has also affected the industry in Europe,
with dairy co-op Arla handing all its profits to
members hit by last year’s heatwave. This points
to climate change hitting the agri sector with
a double whammy, putting pressure on them to
reduce greenhouse emissions on the one hand,
and bringing more uncertain weather conditions on
But leading lights of the co-op movement say the
model remains a resilient one, well-placed to help
farmers ride out uncertainties in the market.
Craig Presland, chief executive of apex body
Co-operative Business New Zealand, says he has no
long-term concern that either of the country’s two
remaining dairy co-ops – Fonterra, which produces
around 82% of the country’s milk, and Tatua Dairy,
which produces around 1%, will demutualise.
He says the co-op model remains an effective
mechanism for farmers to get a good price for
their milk while minimising the cost of inputs.
But he also cites analysis of Westland’s downfall
By Miles Hadfield
36 | SEPTEMBER 2019
y farming expert Keith Woodford, which says
co-ops must also ensure there is enough money
left over for capital expenditure, and put good
governance in place so managers cannot harm the
co-op’s stability in the pursuit of growth.
In his study, Mr Wodford wrote: “Quite simply,
the Westland co-operative got itself into a dreadful
mess with too much debt and a non-competitive
milk price relative to other companies.
“The root of that problem has been steadily
developing over the last 17 years. Once Westland
got on the slippery path, it could not find its way
back to firm ground.”
He points to poor decisions, including “the first
big mistake ... they stayed with a traditional capital
structure of cheap shares with no capital gain. The
mantra was ‘cheap-in and cheap-out’.”
And when Westland saw opportunity for growth,
it did not address the issue of funding the necessary
“Placing too higher portion
of earnings into annual milk
payouts, and not retaining
enough for future capital
projects and/or investments,
can only lead to increased
bank borrowings which can
prove to be disastrous”
increase in processing capacity. “Westland got
carried away with reliance on debt,” he writes.
“It became a slippery path.”
Even in 2009, he says, “there was time to
change the policy and require new production to
be equity funded at say NZ$4 (£2)or thereabouts.
But it did not happen ... I remain puzzled as to why
Westland’s external directors did not argue for
increased capital contributions. Perhaps they did,
but if so, they did not argue hard enough.”
This failure presents lessons for the wider
dairy co-op sector. He says: “The challenge is to
balance capital retentions with annual payouts
appropriately, while prudently investing in capital
projects such as new or upgraded plants. This will
ensure volumes can be processed efficiently and
into value add products, while investments must
provide returns above the weighted average cost
“Placing too higher portion of earnings into
annual milk payouts, and not retaining enough for
future capital projects and/or investments, can
only lead to increased bank borrowings which can
prove to be disastrous.”
He argues that any problems that do occur
point not to flaws in the co-op model but to a lack
of “wise decision making, good governance and
But in Ireland, a different row is being waged over
milk prices – with dairy farmers saying they have
been underpaid by their co-ops.
In April, the Irish Farmers’ Association said
farmers were receiving the same prices they were
paid in 1995, despite “massive investments made
by farmers and industry to improve milk quality and
lift our product mix further up the value chain”.
Gerald Quain, chair of ICMSA’s dairy committee,
said such prices were significantly lower than
the European average; with feed and fodder
costs on the rise, this is putting a squeeze on
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 37
Cannabis and co-ops,
from farming to banking
The legalisation of cannabis in Canada and several
US states has created business opportunities for
growers – and also for finance providers, with
traditional banks reluctant to serve the industry.
The drug is still illegal at federal level in the USA,
but it has been legalised for recreational use in
the states of Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois,
Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon,
Vermont, along with Washington DC, the Northern
Mariana Islands and Guam.
At federal level, some of its derivative
compounds have been approved by the Food and
Drug Administration for prescription use.
In Canada, cannabis has been legal for medical
purposes since 2001 and for recreational use since
This has helped create a growing, lucrative
market: the industry generated US$12.2bn
(£7.5bn), which could rise to more than
$30bn (£18.6bn) in global sales by 2022, and
up to $75bn (£46m) by 2030. Industry website
Cannabiz says there are 43,000 licensed cannabis
and 12,000 licensed hemp operations in the US,
across 41 states and 14 international markets.
To take advantage of this, growers have been
forming co-ops to produce and sell the drug.
The co-op model offers the ability for small growers
to scale up and compete with bigger rivals – with
large corporations expected to enter the market.
It also helps them to maintain transparency in
their operations, and pool resources to negotiate
the complex regulations around the fledgeling
industry. These can include minimum distances
from schools and residences, and rules around
security, light pollution and odour from farms.
For instance, in British Colombia, Canada,
provincial law restricts growers to a 195 sq metre
production limit; an independent marketplace is
also forbidden, with all distribution made through
the BC Liquor Distribution Branch. Licences are
By Miles Hadfield
38 | SEPTEMBER 2019
expensive – with a CA$23,000 (14,100) regulatory
fee, a $3,000 (£1,800) application fee and
a $1,700 (£1,000) security fee. In response, industry
specialist Grow Tech Labs and business incubator
Victory Square Technologies have launched
a cannabis co-op to help small producers in the
province navigate the legal terrain.
“Hopefully the craft cannabis
cooperative will be a brand
identity that people will
look for and will benefit all
of our farmers. This is going
to help farmers who are
hoping to diversify”
To cut costs and red tape, growers in the province
are sharing land; the Kootenay Outdoor Producers
Co-op is planning a demo farm, where it will expand
into edible and fibre production, with plans to take
its model to 60 more farms.
Legalisation has brought bigger players from
Canada’s co-op sector into the field, with Calgary
Co-op, one of the largest retail co-ops in North
America, forming a Co-op Cannabis division,
operating separate stores selling dried cannabis,
cannabis oil, and accessories.
Growers in the US are also drawn to the co-op
model; in Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts, the craft
marijuana co-op has been included as a licensing
category by regulators – although some town
councils have imposed a moratorium on growers.
Among those formed to take advantage of the rule
is Farm Bug Co-op, which is lobbying legislators to
ensure that co-ops under licence must abide by the
seven co-operative principles.
“We were concerned about some big company
coming in and calling themselves a co-operative,”
Marty Dagoberto of the Northeast Organic Farming
Association told local news site Valley Advocate.
“I feel co-ops are the way of the future as far as
a democratically controlled local economy goes.”
And in Conway, John Moore and Lisa Gustavsen of
Roaring Glen Farms are looking to set up a cannabis
co-op. “There are so many farmers who are having
to leave their farms, they can’t make a living,” they
told local news site Greenfield Recorder. “This
could be a magic bullet for all the abandoned farms
and dairy farms in the western part of the state.”
But cannabis co-ops face another hurdle: where
to put their money, with many players in the banking
sector unwilling to help because they are subject to
federal law, which maintains a ban on the drug.
This has prompted cannabis businesses to turn
to credit unions, although they often face a waiting
list before being accepted as members, and must
go through costly background and licence checks.
Last month, the chair of regulator the National
Credit Union Administration said credit unions
won’t be sanctioned for serving cannabis-related
businesses in states where the drug is legal – with
Congress considering legislation that would allow
banks to take on cannabis-related customers.
US Treasury figures in 2018 found 375 traditional
banks and 111 credit unions accepting business
from the cannabis industry. This number is growing
– Treasury figures in July found that in the first half
of 2019, the number of credit unions servicing
cannabis businesses had risen by 20%.
But it’s still unfamiliar territory. Last month,
Alaska’s Credit Union 1 announced it was ending
a pilot project which had seen it work with four
cannabis businesses. Chief executive James
Wileman said businesses could not continue the
programme beyond a pilot phase without liability
coverage, adding that the pilot had not performed
as well as expected.
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 39
Social entrepreneur and author Sam Conniff
Allende is guest speaker at the Social Business
Wales Conference this month. He will be discussing
ideas from his new book, Be More Pirate, which
sets out radical ideas for challenger businesses to
take on their conventional rivals. “The original
purpose-driven business model was the co-op
movement,” he writes, “and before there was the
co-operative movement, there were pirates.”
He adds: “As capitalism continues its existential
crisis and global leadership disappears even
further up its own arse, this truly is the time for
social business to show it’s courage, ambition
“We have the answers, we have the evidence and
we have the leaders: it’s time to make sure your
story is heard. I’m proud and excited to be coming
back to Wales to share my message, meet with
my comrades in Social Business and return to the
homeland of the pirates, who I think all of us can
draw real inspiration from in times like these.”
How did you get interested in pirates ; who is
your favourite - and why?
My favourite is Anne Bonny, born Anne
McCormac in 1702. By setting off to sea she broke
one of the most universally enforced rules of society
that says women are not fully autonomous human
beings, with rights and abilities equal to those
of men. As a father to two young daughters I am
acutely aware that gender inequality is something
they will face; the courage of Anne Bonny reminds
me that change is possible – but it will require us
to take risks.
How were pirates the original co-operators?
It could be argued that pirates were the world's first
equal opportunity employers; alongside women,
they also embraced same-sex couples and ethnic
minority crew members. They set great store in
community, working towards a set of principles
(the pirate code) and sharing resources equally.
Unlike today where some CEOs earn up 100
times more than the average worker, the captain
of a pirate ship would typically only receive two to
four times as much as the crew.
Why do we need pirates today – as much as we
did 300 years ago?
We are at an interesting juncture in history, where
businesses and organisations need to think
seriously about their role in society. With the
climate crisis, political disruption and automation
ahead of us, there is now a lot more at stake than
simply growing your company to make more
money, and consumers are increasingly aware of
this. The organisations that leap ahead, I think,
will be those that are willing to take risks, fight for,
shout about, and visibly live their principles.
What is the link between the Pirate Code and
co-op values and principles?
The pirate codes that have been recorded, by and
large, set out many of the same principles found
in the co-operative movement: open membership,
democratic structure, autonomy for members,
economic participation, co-operation with other
co-ops (other pirate crews). It’s quite remarkable.
Given that renowned pirates like Henry Morgan
were from Wales and grew up close to Newtown
where Robert Owen was born, it is not too much
of a stretch to believe that ideas born at sea were
transferred back to land.
What can co-ops and social businesses today
learn from pirates of the past – particularly
in terms of organising, and the delegation of
power and responsibility?
Co-ops embody many of the principles seen
in pirate codes, so actually I’d say that it’s not
organisational and power structures that they
can learn from pirates. It’s storytelling. Pirates
were masters at using their brand to achieve their
objectives – which, contrary to popular opinion
(and Disney), was survival, not violence. Pirates
made sure the message was clear and singular,
and they understood that the medium was just as
powerful as the message itself. I’ve worked with a
lot of small businesses and social enterprises doing
incredible things around the circular economy and
economic justice, but they haven’t quite nailed
getting their message heard by the world. I think
that the same could be said of co-ops.
How can ordinary people find their inner pirate?
Do you have five tips?
Be less predictable: if you’re not yet ready to launch
a rebellion then simply start by stepping outside of
your comfort zone. We’re far too tied to our habits and
routines, so go in search of unchartered territories
– whatever that means for you. Although it’s been
said by many a self-help guru, exercising this muscle
regularly makes it much less scary to step up when
there’s something to really fight for.
Know what you will fight for: in my experience, most
people aren’t sure – which is why, when it comes to
the crunch, we struggle to make decisions or take
action on important issues. When you know, work
out how to demonstrate it. Our values are only real
when we apply them.
Find your crew: the strength of pirates was the crew,
and the high levels of trust and accountability that
bonded them together. It is a lonely road to create
change alone, but small groups of committed people
can change the world.
Redistribute power: pirates redistributed power
because they understood how much it corrupts. But
power is fluid and comes in many forms, not just
through traditional leadership. We all hold informal
power in our skills, connections and knowledge, and
you can shift the balance of power when you educate,
listen to and trust others.
Keep it simple: For a generation that’s increasingly
time poor, there are far too many long boring strategy
papers in existence that will never be read. Focus
instead on small, bold actions that will make a
difference. Clear the decks of pointless process and
work with less resources, just as pirates did.
The Social Business Wales Conference is organised by the
Wales Co-operative Centre, and takes place at Venue Cymru
in Llandudno, on 25 September.
More details at wales.coop/social-business-conference-2019/
By Rebecca Harvey
OF THE MARK
tea worker at Kibena
Tea Estate, Tanzania.
Credit: Simon Rawles
In 1994 Cafédirect, Clipper and Green & Blacks
launched the first products carrying the
Fairtrade Mark in the UK. In the lead-up to the
25th anniversary we spoke with Sarah Wakefield
(food sustainability manager, Co-op Group), Julia
Nicoara (director of public engagement, Fairtrade
Foundation) and Ed Mayo (secretary general,
Co-operatives UK) to look at how the movement
has impacted co-ops – and what the future holds.
Fairtrade has come a long way in 25 years; it works
with over 1.6 million farmers and workers (23% of
whom are women) in more than 1,400 Fairtrade
producer organisations across 73 countries.
Co-operatives UK’s Ed Mayo was instrumental in
the birth of the Fairtrade Mark. “My family was a
regular user of produce from the alternative trade
organisation, Traidcraft, and their recycled toilet
paper ruled at home when I was a child,” he says.
“I was a couple of years out of university,
working for development campaign group WDM,
when I met two people thinking big about global
justice. Martin Newman was at the creative
agency Imagination and Richard Adams was
co-founder of Traidcraft. Richard was concerned
about a crisis in traditional Fairtrade produce
and the need to find new consumers for highquality
products. Martin was seized with the idea
of a mainstream consumer label as a guarantee of
provenance in terms of producer benefits.”
Mr Mayo joined a small team which developed
the concept. The Fairtrade Mark that resulted
drew lessons from Max Havelaar coffee, sold in the
Netherlands and co-developed by the UCIRI co-op
in Mexico, but added explicit criteria that could be
accredited to make Fairtrade possible anywhere.
Mr Mayo worked on the first draft of these criteria
with Belinda Coote (then of Oxfam) and helped to
shape the brand identity, coining the term Fairtrade
as a single word that could be trademarked.
“Almost all Fairtrade is co-operative and the best
of it connects co-operatives through the supply
chain, from producers through to retail co-ops.
Fairtrade is essentially a co-op brand,” he says.
The Co-op Group’s Sarah Wakefield has
been involved in Fairtrade since she set up a
42 44 | | SEPTEMBER AUGUST 2019 2019
campaign group at the age of 14. She joined the
Group’s graduate scheme after looking for an
ethical business to work for.
She believes the Co-op has been involved in
Fairtrade since the start because of its members.
“Some of the core Fairtrade campaigners are also
Co-op members. And those people have been at
the core of why we were involved as a co-op so
early, and also in generating the energy that made
Fairtrade a national and now global movement.”
She adds: “At the Co-op, we believe Fairtrade
is the gold standard because of its additional
requirements around price, premium and producer
voice. The Fairtrade minimum price is determined
not by us, but by an independent organisation.
“The premium is also set independently – and
feeds into the third element, producer voice. How
the premium is spent is determined by the local
communities. And that is really important, because
sitting here in Manchester, we do not know the full
needs of a small cocoa producer in the Ivory Coast.”
Recent analysis by the Fairtrade Foundation,
conducted by GlobeScan, shows Fairtrade is still
the most visible ethical label in the UK. But, says
the Foundation’s Julia Nicoara, “it is vital that we
maintain visibility because that’s what drives the
most impact for farmers and workers.
“The one thing all farmers and workers in our
system need is to sell more of their goods under
Fairtrade terms, because if there is not enough
consumer demand, they have no choice but to sell
their products at a loss to the conventional market.”
She adds: “When there are lots of products with
the Fairtrade Mark on our shelves we all benefit.
Consumers know our standards have been met
and more producers get higher prices – this is a
virtuous circle, but it only works when businesses
source Fairtrade goods and we buy them.”
One challenge is the growth in alternative food
assurance labels, from the Rainforest Alliance (an
NGO which works “at the intersection of business,
agriculture, and forests to make responsible
business the new normal”) to retailers’ in-house
certifications such as Sainsbury’s Fairly Traded.
“When we launched it, the Fairtrade Mark
offered an entirely new proposition,” says Ed Mayo.
“There are now over 100 different food assurance
labels on the market, but in reality many offer only
an ‘ethics lite’ approach and the sheer number
of labels baffles and bamboozles most consumers.
The Fairtrade Mark has been copied and hasn’t
been perfect but in footballing terms, it remains
the Lionel Messi of ethical labels.”
Sarah Wakefield adds: “More labels is not
making it easy for people to make decisions. In
terms of why it’s happening, it’s complicated and
depends on the organisation making that decision.
“Fairtrade is challenging to conventional
business models. It’s a radical way of organising
a supply chain that takes control out of your hands.
I think this is a good thing as it puts more in the
hands of producers. But I think that is challenging
for other organisations, it’s a loss of control.”
WHAT CAN FAIRTRADE DO ABOUT THIS?
Ms Wakefield is adamant there should be no change
to the Fairtrade model. “We’re seeing issues today
that still speak to why Fairtrade is important. Take
the coffee price crisis – for all those coffee farmers
not receiving the Fairtrade minimum price, they
are now receiving below the cost of production for
that coffee. It demonstrates why even after 25 years,
Fairtrade still has a very relevant model.
“We need to articulate this more clearly, remind
people why they got so fired up about Fairtrade in
the first place, and be really challenging of other
organisations who choose a different approach.”
Julia Nicoara agrees: “While we celebrate 25
years, it’s important to remember that Fairtrade
does not just represent certification, but also a
global grassroots movement that constantly seeks
to improve, to drive greater value for farmers and
workers. This is why we are about more than the
Mark, and we go beyond certification.”
tea farmer and
member of Sireet
OEP co-op Kenya
Credit: Simon Rawles
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 43
Civilising Rural Ireland by Patrick Doyle – Hallsworth research fellow at the University
of Manchester – looks at introduction of co-operative societies into the Irish countryside from
the late 19th century – and the influence of the movement on the emering nation state. Here,
he discusses the co-operative transformation of the Irish countryside
Credit: National Photo Company Collection - Library of Congress
Civilising Rural Ireland presents a study of a
movement that shaped the social, economic, and
political fabric of modern Ireland. Tracing the
introduction of agricultural co-operative societies
to an Ireland that experienced social unrest,
violence, and eventual political independence, the
book looks at the lives of ordinary men and women
who joined the movement started a revolution in
The establishment of the Irish co-operative
movement in the late 19th century transformed
rural society. Led by the Irish social reformer,
Horace Plunkett, promoted by the poetic visionary
George William Russell (also known as Æ), and
with origins firmly located within a wider Irish
cultural revival, the co-operative movement’s
objectives went far beyond the creation of new
businesses in the countryside – it aimed at
a social revolution.
For Plunkett, the Irish Question was not just
about politics. He witnessed the polarisation of
political camps in Ireland between nationalism
and unionism with distress. Instead he framed the
Irish Question as an economic one.
He wrote: “The Irish Question is, then the
problem of a national existence, chiefly an
agricultural existence, in Ireland. To outside
observers it is the question of rural life, a question
which is assuming a social and economic
importance and interest of the most intense
character, not only for Ireland North and South,
but for almost the whole civilised world.”
The co-operative movement, he argued,
offered the basis for a more positive ordering
of social relations within Ireland. Co-operative
creameries, credit societies, and agricultural
stores modernised agriculture, but also paved
the way for a more democratic economy that
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 44
placed ownership of agribusiness directly in the
hands of farmers.
The book traces, among other things, how
farmers overcame opposition to the establishment
of co-operative businesses from local traders,
private creamery owners, and politicians and even
managed to survive a campaign of co-ordinated
attacks from Crown forces during the disturbed
years of 1920 and 1921 – a period known as the War
Importantly, the book also recounts how the
growth of the Irish agricultural co-operative
movement exerted a profound effect on the
movement in Britain under the leadership
of the Co-operative Wholesale Society
(CWS). Almost immediately after the first cooperative
creamery was established, a new
source of tension emerged between Irish and
British co-operators to add to the long list
of strains that have existed on these islands.
The CWS operated several depots in Ireland,
buying as it did the produce of Irish farmers –
especially butter – to supply the hundreds of
co-operative shops that existed throughout the
UK in the late 19th century. The CWS’s focus on
attaining the cheapest price possible in order to
pass savings onto members in Britain’s towns
and cities came at a cost to Irish farmers. Irish
produce proved so central to the working of British
co-operative businesses that Percy Redfern, the
first historian of the British co-operative movement
commented that the CWS “grew fat on butter and
Ireland was the source of the supply”.
The introduction of the creamery separator and
competition from farmers in Denmark incentivised
the CWS’s greater involvement in the production
process in order to benefit their membership
base. Thus, the first co-operative creamery was
organised on behalf of the CWS in Drumcollogher,
County Limerick, in 1889. The principal figures
behind its establishment were WL Stokes, who
worked as the CWS’s Limerick agent, and butter
merchant, Robert Gibson.
When Horace Plunkett established the Irish
Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS) in Dublin
in 1894, a race to become the chief organisational
force of co-operators across Ireland began in
earnest and very quickly became toxic. Under
the IAOS Irish co-operators looked to maximise
the return to farmers and therefore looked
to sell the same produce at as high a price as
possible. The interests of producer and consumer
– both defined as co-operators – proved to be
An ideological fracture between the IAOS and
CWS soon erupted when each attempted to gain
control of the creamery sector and over a decade
of hostility and economic rivalry played out across
the Irish countryside – directing resources from
both movements that might otherwise have helped
to build on both organisations’ achievements.
In August 1901, Plunkett presided over the
National Co-operative Festival at Crystal Palace
and used the platform to attack the involvement
of the British co-operative movement in Ireland.
In front of delegates gathered from across the
UK, Plunkett argued that the British version
of creamery organisation offered little in the
way of the co-operative spirit when applied
to Ireland. The CWS creameries saw “farmers
supply their milk as they do to any other capitalist
who gives them their price, but in which they
have no share in either management or profit,
in which they take no pride, in which they learn
An economic war of attrition continued for the
next decade. IAOS and CWS organisers slandered
one another as they tried to convince farmers join
their version of the co-operative creamery. In the
end the Manchester-based CWS decided to cut
its losses. In 1909, the CWS ceded the territory
around creameries to the IAOS, having shared,
in the rather ill-spirited reflections of Redfern,
“the common experience of those Englishmen
who seek to pave the bogs of Ireland with
The book will be of interest for those readers
who want to gain a deeper appreciation of the
ways in which co-operators on these islands
collaborated and competed with one another
– and in so doing illuminates the complex and
sometimes uncomfortable relationship that
existed, and will continue to exist, between Ireland
Info on the book can be found at tinyurl.com/
y6o8qdz6; our book review is on page 48
Cutting and carting
turf at a bog near
ca. 1903 Credit:
- Library of Congress
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 45
The Irish co-op sector has been crying out for reform – but what form will this take, and why is it
taking so long? Paul Gosling investigates
Co-operative legislation in Ireland is set for a major
overhaul, but the slow pace of decision-making is
leaving uncertainty for the sector.
It was back in 2016 that the Co-operative
Legislation Unit at the country’s Department of
Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation initiated a review
of the relevant laws – the Industrial and Provident
Societies Acts that date from the 1890s and which
have since repeatedly updated. These changes
comprise what the department has referred to as
“piecemeal amendments” to “what is a largely
Victorian statutory code”.
The intention is to at the least codify, and
probably substantially re-write, that old legislation.
A spokeswoman for what is now the Department of
Business, Enterprise and Innovation says: “The
department is undertaking a root and branch
review of the Industrial and Provident Societies
Acts 1894-2018. It is intended to bring forward a
General Scheme of a Bill which will consolidate
and modernise the existing legislation by the end
“A distinction is also required within the
legislation between different types of co-ops,
that is between larger, more business-oriented
co-operatives and those co-operatives who are
owned and run by a group of people wishing to
serve a social or environmental need”
Ten responses were submitted to the consultation
exercise, but the nature of these varied.
Accountancy body ACCA was concerned that
the disclosure and governance requirements for
industrial and provident societies are less rigorous
than for companies. It also expressed concern that
the register of industrial and provident societies is
not up to date.
In its submission, the Centre for Co-operative
Studies at University College Cork focused on the
co-operative concept – seeking changes to the
name of the law to include the word ‘co-operative’;
creating a separate category for employee-owned/
workers’ co-operatives; and to reduce the required
minimum number of members from seven to three.
Co-operative Housing Ireland similarly sought
a reduction in the required number of members
to three, while co-operative development body
Co-operation Works proposed the minimum
number to be reduced to just two.
The Society for Co-operative Studies Ireland –
whose members include Co-operative Alternatives
of Northern Ireland and the Co-operative Forum
of Northern Ireland – is another that called for the
name of the new legislation to include the word
‘co-operative’ and to provide clearer definitions to
the co-operative identity.
“A distinction is also required within the
legislation between different types of co-operatives,
that is between larger, more business-oriented
co-operatives and those co-operatives who are
owned and run by a group of people wishing to
serve a social or environmental need,” it says.
SCSI also wants small co-ops to be exempted
from the legal requirement for external audit in the
same way as small companies.
ICOS – the Irish Co-operative Organisation
Society – called for stronger rules for governance
in IPSAs, while urging that company law is not
adopted wholesale for co-ops. Its submission
states: “While some elements of company law are
necessarily applicable to a co-operative, to use
a blanket approach would subvert the unique
characteristics and ethos of a co-operative.
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 46
“ICOS believes any changes to the IPS Acts
must protect and respect both the principles and
practices of the co-operative model.”
ICOS believes that IPSA law should not create
greater compliance burdens than company law.
James Doyle, a spokesman for ICOS, says he
expects proposed legal changes to include the
codification of committee member duties to provide
for comparable responsibilities under company
law; a “revamp” of protections for stakeholders,
including shareholders and workers; and the
consolidation of the various acts into a single piece
of legislation. It also hopes the financial reporting
framework will be modernised, including by
allowing comparable audit exemptions to those
available for companies.
ICOS wants other modernisation measures.
Mr Doyle says: “The modern world is a busy
place. Time is precious and communication
is increasingly instantaneous. That said, the
co-op model is rooted in personal engagement
and co-decision. To do that it has always been
necessary to facilitate the coming together of
shareholders and their elected leadership. This
principle has featured in co-operative rule books
where for example proxy voting is typically
prohibited. Securing a legal framework that
validates the use of technology to enhance, rather
than subvert, member participation and control
would be a positive outcome.”
He adds: “Co-operative ownership and the
rights that go with that ownership warrant proper
expression in the new legislation. The common law
has spoken on some of these issues which is helpful
when the existing statute is as outdated as it is.
“But there is more work to be done. ICOS is
hopeful that the outcome of the legislative process
will provide a solid basis for any co-operative
enterprise to thrive in a manner that serves the
needs and interests of its members.”
But the consultation process is proving slow
and “frustratingly opaque”, according to academic
Patrick Doyle, author of Civilising rural Ireland.
“This is a piece of legislation that has fallen
down the priority list due to Brexit and the distinct
possibility there may be a general election in the
near future – but that is a hunch,” he says. “I’m
increasingly concerned that it might only be
minor adjustment of existing legislature – perhaps
updating language and likely to be cosmetic.
“I also fear that it will be written from the
perspective of a managed decline of the sector.
Obviously I hope that isn’t the case. To be honest
I think this is probably a once in a generation
opportunity to effect some positive and purposeful
change in the co-op sector.”
He adds: “In a highly aspirational sense I would
personally like to see an emphasis placed on
trying to achieve greater social value in public
sector procurement – a la Preston – and using
co-operatives to deliver on a range of public service
contracts. I believe if Ireland is to have its own
iteration of a Green New Deal then co-ops can play
a central part in building the necessary economy.
I see the Co-op Party Northern Ireland manifesto as
an incredibly useful document for helping to think
through a lot of these issues.”
With the prospect of an Irish general election
in the near future, it is reassuring that all the
major political parties in Ireland are supportive of
co-operatives. Current governing party Fine Gael’s
last manifesto expressed support for energy co-ops
and shared ownership renewable energy projects.
Fianna Fáil – which is well placed to lead the next
government – declared in its manifesto support for
co-ops, particularly as part of rural development.
And the Green Party – which might be
members of a future coalition government – has
pledged to “facilitate the creation of co-operative
businesses” and “introduce legislation to facilitate
the conversion of private business into workerowned
Whether this cross-party support translates its
way into the forthcoming legal changes is unclear.
It is possible that legislation may be introduced
before the general election – a date for which has
not yet been set. And if the legislation is delayed
until after the election, its character may be
influenced by the composition of the government,
given the different focus of the main parties.
A coalition containing the Green Party is most
likely to commit to radical pro-co-op measures.
But those might be separate from a process that
is mostly designed to consolidate and modernise
The seat of the Irish
known as Leinster
House. Both the
lower (Dail) and
chamber meet here.
SEPTEMBER 2019 | 47
The co-op movement and its role in the ‘Irish Question’
rural Ireland -
and the nation
Did the experience of economic freedom coincide
with a demand for political freedom in Ireland in
the early twentieth century? Patrick Doyle’s book
explores the co-operative movement’s role played
in conceptualising the Irish nation state.
The book traces the movement’s progress
from the establishment of the first co-operative
creamery in 1889 through to the creation of
a network of creameries, credit societies and
agricultural stores under the umbrella of the Irish
Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS).
Horace Plunkett, the founder of the IAOS,
summarised the co-operative movement’s
objectives as “better farming, better business and
better living”. In spite of Plunkett being an Anglo-
Irish unionist, his co-operative ideals became
popular among Sinn Féin ideologues.
At the time the Irish and British co-operative
movements aggressively competed with one
another in a race to control the Irish dairy industry.
Furthermore, widespread emigration in the late 19th
century alongside the present spectre of famine led
Plunkett to conclude that rural Ireland stood on the
precipice of a demographic catastrophe. He believed
that only a thorough co-operative reorganisation of
the Irish countryside would raise living standards
and halt the flow of emigration.
Under Plunkett’s leadership the IAOS promoted
a distinct and radical form of democratic economics.
Co-ops helped to address common problems
that faced farmers such as the need to access
new agricultural technologies and to expand the
availability of credit. Co-operative societies also
facilitated the adoption of new technologies
throughout the rural economy. For example, the
spread of creamery separators transformed Irish
dairy production and provided the means for
dairy farmers to remain competitive with their
The book notes that the co-operative movement
in Ireland remained confined to the countryside
and failed to make significant advances into
urban centres. The end of 1950s witnessed
a renaissance in the co-operative credit movement,
followed by a rapid growth, of the credit
Doyle argues that the emergence of co-ops in
food retail and brewery proves that the model still
plays an important part in imagining how the Irish
economy might develop once again.
Be More Pirate
Sam Conniff Allende
(Penguin Books, £10)
Are co-ops the new pirates?
Can businesses learn from the pirates of the 17th
and 18th century? Social entrepreneur and author
Sam Conniff Allende seems to think so, from his look
at how, 300 years ago, a group of rebels from the
Merchant and Royal Navies went rogue.
He encourages social businesses to learn from
them and become today’s disruptors. “Pirates didn’t
just break rules, they rewrote them,” he says.
Pirates were the first equal opportunity employer,
he adds, developing a social code based on
principles such as fair play, equality and freedom.
He thinks today’s world faces similar challenges,
with power concentrated in the hands of a “selfinterested
political and business elite”.
While noting that some of the progress in
the late 20th century democratised humankind
for the best, the book warns of new challenges
such as environmental degradation, economic
disintegration, unprecedented levels of human
migration and the rise of the robots.
The book dismantles some popular clichés about
pirates while examining their innovations – and
argues that some of their systems, beliefs and
attitudes might provide valuable lessons for today’s
The book specifically refers to pirates who
operated between 1690 and 1725, a period known
as the Golden Age of Piracy. The British Empire had
started taking shape under Queen Elizabeth I, driven
by her policy on privateering, whereby some private
ships would sail under a royal letter of marque
providing they granted a cut of the treasures to the
palace. The author points out that these privateers
were often pirates.
Pirates questioned and challenged the
established order and the status quo. Sailors of
the 17th century were self-employed, having learnt
their trade, and pirates offered them wealth and fair
trade. Ships also functioned on a one pirate, one
vote rule. Furthermore, argues Mr Conniff Allende,
records show that the Golden Age pirates set
aside a portion of everything the stole to serve as
compensation for when comrades got wounded in
action. Every crew member was given compensation
for lost limbs or eyes and those unable to continue
to engage in raids would be found other positions.
The book encourages readers to find a cause for
rebellion and act as an agent for change, seeking
to re-write rules to achieve positive change. Most
importantly, it argues, social businesses must
stay true to their values and leverage the power
of storytelling, just like the pirates did.
48 | SEPTEMBER 2019
7 November 2019
FROM FAR LEFT CLOCKWISE:
Co-op Connection Study visits Suma
12 Sep; Practitioners Forum 2019
7 Nov; Co-operative Party Conference
11-13 Oct; and the Community Energy
Awards take place in London on 18 Oct
A series of specialist forums: communications
finance governance HR and membership
12 Sep: Co-op Connections Study
Visit - Suma
Suma’s Ross Hodgson will shed some
light how the equal-pay co-op combines
its hugely successful vegetarian food
operations with egalitarian processes
across its workforce. Discover how a flat
management structure and equal pay
across the entire organisation works
WHERE: Address provided
11-13 Oct: Co-operative Party Conference
The annual event will include
debates on policy; Q&As with elected
representatives from the UK, Scottish
and Wales parliaments and councils
across the UK; a series of informative
and constructive workshops and
examples of best practice from
local co-ops. There are networking
opportunities, and members can
take part in the Party’s diversity
networks (including BAME, disability,
LGBT+, women and youth).
WHERE: Doubletree, Glasgow
Mix and match across forums to create
a bespoke programme of learning
4-17 Oct: ICA Co-operatives for
Development Global Conference
A fantastic professional development
The conference will be structured around
opportunity for co-operative practitioners
plenary sessions, sectoral and thematic
seminars Learn from and discussion experts and panels. network It with is peers
open to co-operators worldwide and also
to other civil society actors, development
agencies, policy makers, institutional
partners, Discounts government available for representatives,
researchers, Co-operatives and UK members all those who are
concerned about development.
18 Oct: Community Energy Awards 2019
Community Energy England & Community
Energy Wales have teamed up to deliver
the 2019 Community Energy Awards.
Organisers say it will be a relaxed event
where we champion the individuals
(many of whom are volunteers) making
a diff erence in their communities, and
the projects and partners who have
helped develop innovative community
WHERE: City Hall London
7 Nov: Practitioners’ Forum
Professional training event for people
operating in key roles in co-operative
businesses both large and small.
Featuring a series of specialist forums:
communications; finance; governance;
HR; and membership, with delegates
able to mix and match across forums.
WHERE: The Studio, Manchester
26-28 Nov: Co-operative College
100 years: And now the future
Rochdale and its town hall will be the
venue for a highlight of the College’s
centenary year. Speakers include Prof.
Esther N. Gicheru (principal, The
Co-operative University College of
Kenya), Andy Burnham (Mayor of Greater
Manchester) and Angela Rayner (Labour
MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, Droylsden
and Failsworth). The conference will
include a Gala Dinner in the Grand Hall.
WHERE: Rochdale Town Hall
28 Feb – 1 Mar 2020 : Co-operative Retail
10-20 June - Co-op Congress (Rochdale)
50 | SEPTEMBER 2019
7 November 2019
FOR CO-OP PRACTITIONERS
A series of specialist forums: communications
finance governance HR and membership
Mix and match across forums to create
a bespoke programme of learning
A fantastic professional development
opportunity for co-operative practitioners
Learn from experts and network with peers
Discounts available for
Co-operatives UK members