A co-operative is a group of people acting together to meet the common needs and aspirations of its members, sharing ownership and making decisions democratically. Every investor has an equal voice in making policies and electing representatives, no matter how much they invest. Co-operatives are not about making big profits for shareholders, but creating value for members.
The co-operative movement took off in 1844 when a group of 28 artisans working in the cotton mills of Rochdale established the first modern co-operative business, the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society. The weavers faced miserable working conditions and low wages, and they could not afford the high prices of food and household goods. They decided that by pooling their scarce resources and working together they could access basic goods at a lower price. They set up a shop in Toad Lane, Rochdale that initially sold only four items: flour, oatmeal, sugar and butter.
The Pioneers decided that shoppers should be able to share in the profits that their custom contributed. Every customer of the shop became a member and so had a true stake and a say in the business.
Today, There are more than 1 billion members of co-operatives worldwide, which between them employ over 100 million people. All Fairtrade goods are produced by co-operatives. The world's largest co-operative is the Co-operative Group, which includes the Co-operative stores, the Co-operative Bank, Britannia and Co-operative Insurance.
In the UK, the co-operative economy is worth some £35.6 billion and has 13.5 million members. Co-operatives are the largest membership movement in the country.
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