What is a Co-operative?
A Co-operative is a member-owned business structure who join together to meet common business needs through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. The members all have equal voting rights regardless of their level of involvement or investment.
Co-operatives play an important role in our economy and community. They are diverse organisations and support a wide range of industries including retail, agriculture, water distribution, manufacturing, taxi services and arts and crafts.
A Co-operative or Co-op usually only allows a distribution of profits to members.
A Co-op business structure encourages a democratic style of management and promotes the concepts of sharing resources and delegation to increase competitiveness.
In Western Australia, Co-operatives must comply with the requirements of the Co-operatives Act 2009 and be registered with the Department of Commerce.
There are several advantages to this type of enterprise structure.
Generally inexpensive to register; all members must be active in the Co-operative; members have an equal vote at general meetings regardless of their level of investment or involvement; and vote to elect Directors to present the members. Other than directors, members can be aged under 18 years.
History of Co-operatives
The United Kingdom is home to a widespread and diverse Co-operative movement, with over 6,500 registered Co-operatives which are owned by 15 million individual members and which contribute £37bn a year to the British economy.
Modern Co-operation started with the Rochdale Pioneers’ shop in the northern English town of Rochdale in 1844, though the history of Co-operation in the UK can be traced back to before 1800, and there are many thousands of registered Co-operative businesses operating in the UK. Alongside the 400+ consumer and retail Co-operatives, there exist many prominent agricultural Co-operatives (621), Co-operative housing providers (619), health and social care Co-operatives (111), Co-operative schools (834), Co-operatively run community energy projects, football supporters’ trusts, credit unions and worker-owned businesses.
Co-operative enterprise now accounts for over 100 million jobs around the world and financial Co-operatives serve an estimated 857 million people, or 13 percent of the world’s population. In some countries, like Japan and Finland, Co-op membership represents more than 1 in 3 households.
Co-operatives in Australia
There are currently some 1,740 Co-ops registered in Australia, across many industries. Of note – Wesfarmers Ltd – now one of Australia’s largest corporations owning Bunnings, Coles and a multitude of other businesses – started as a Co-op. The largest Co-op in Australia today is Co-operative Bulk Handing Ltd, but also includes Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative Ltd, Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative Ltd, and Master Butchers Co-operative Ltd to name a few.
Co-operatives in Western Australia
Co-operatives first emerged in Western Australia in the late 1880’s following a Royal Commission into that State’s rural industry. At the start of the 20th century, the Western Australian Government enacted the Co-operative and Provident Societies Act 1903.
In 1998, the Western Australian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Uniform Legislation and Intergovernmental Agreements recommended the government sign the national Co-operatives Laws Agreement, however was not enacted until the Western Australian Government releasing in 2006 draft legislation for public consultation. This resulted in the Co-operatives Act 2009, replacing the earlier acts, thereby bringing the State’s Co-operatives law in line with those of other States and Territories.
Today, Western Australian Co-operatives are involved in a range of economic and social activities. The majority are Distributing Co-operatives in the agricultural, fishing, forestry, retail, transport, water and wholesale trade industries, with the balance being Non-Distributing Co-operatives in the education, training and interest group industries.
More information can be found at Co-operatives WA
There’s also a really good article here on ‘The misunderstood world of the co-operative enterprise.‘