As the nation watches the scandals and troubles of Wall Street corporations unfold daily, many have to be asking, “isn’t there a better way to run a business that gives everyone – rather than a select few – a say in how the business is run?”
There is: cooperatively-run businesses. This October is National Co-op Month, a time for people to celebrate cooperative businesses – which are organizations democratically controlled by their members, the same individuals who use the co-op's services or buy its goods.
Cooperative businesses can be found in every industry in every size – from small storefronts to Fortune 500 companies. A vital part of the economy, the nearly 40,000 cooperative businesses nationwide serve four in 10 Americans, or 120 million members. Co-ops include credit unions, housing cooperatives, rural electrics cooperatives, cooperative daycare centers and grocery co-ops.
“Co-op members know that the purpose of their co-op is to meet their needs,” said Robynn Shrader, CEO of National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), which provides businesses services for 109 natural food co-op grocers nationwide. “They, not outside investors, own the business and define the direction. And, because members have a say in the business’ direction, they can contribute in a tangible way to positive change.”
Shrader suggests individuals learn more about co-ops by visiting www.go.coop.
Food Co-ops Enable Optimal Prices and Quality Standards
Cooperatives also gain strength when similar co-ops align. For example, NCGA works to bring the best prices and top quality products to its members nationwide. Shrader offers five key facts about co-op grocers:
- At the local food co-op, members enjoy the highest quality products (such as organic foods). They know that the products they purchase have been sustainably sourced when possible (from local farmers, for example, or via Fair Trade purchases).
- Members receive the best prices on co-op purchases, a say in the governance of the co-op, and an abundance of information (via newsletters, for example) about products and other issues of interest.
- Co-op membership also provides an opportunity to invest in the community. The money generated, and the livelihoods supported, are close at hand and close-knit. In addition to providing local jobs, co-ops purchase goods and services from local farmers, artisans, and other producers.
- Co-ops support—with financial and in-kind contributions as well as volunteer labor —local causes like education, the environment, social needs and cultural enrichment.
- Together with small farmers and producers and consumers, co-ops continually call for high organic standards, support for local food systems, and integrity and transparency in food and farming systems.