A worker cooperative is a values-driven enterprise that places worker and community welfare at its core. The two most important characteristics of worker cooperatives are: Workers own the company and share in its financial success based on their labour commitment to the cooperative. Workers have representation on and vote for the board of directors, maintaining the principle of one worker, one vote. In addition to their economic and governance involvement, worker-owners frequently manage the day-to-day operations through a variety of management structures. In this article we will be learning about worker cooperatives emerging for sustainable development.

What is Sustainable Development?

Sustainable development is a development that meets existing demands without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their own needs. Sustainable development can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but at its core, it is an approach to development that seeks to balance multiple, and often conflicting, objectives with knowledge of the environmental, social, and economic constraints our society faces.

Too frequently, development is driven by a single demand, without adequate consideration of broader or future implications. We are already witnessing the damage this type of approach can do, from large-scale financial crises caused by reckless banking to changes in the global environment arising from our reliance on energy sources derived from fossil fuels. We must act immediately because the longer we pursue unsustainable development, the more frequent and severe its repercussions are likely to become.

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What are Worker Cooperatives Emerging for Sustainable Development?

Worker Cooperatives Emerging for Sustainable Development works as a result of changes in the world of work, worker cooperatives are emerging as a new organizational form. They have a special democratic structure of member-worker-owners in which decisions are decided by people who are directly involved in the firm. Any sort of business can be worker-owned and operated as a cooperative, and worker cooperatives can help organize new forms of employment with less reliance on the employer and greater flexibility and cooperation among workers. A study on worker cooperatives investigates how they are used as a reaction strategy to changes in the world of work, including through union engagement, worker buyouts, cooperatives of freelancers, and cooperatives utilizing online platforms.

Union Engagement

Historically, trade unions have been supporters of the cooperative movement. They have encouraged the formation of new cooperatives, bolstered existing cooperatives, and promoted cooperative services for their members. Nonetheless, union officials are concerned about the dual position of worker cooperatives as both employers and employees, particularly with respect to the ambiguity of workers’ status, the concentration of risk for the workers, and working conditions. In recent years, the demonstrated endurance of cooperatives in times of crisis has prompted trade unions to rediscover them for their members or increase their support for cooperatives that assist informal workers in transitioning to formal employment. As membership-based organizations, cooperative companies’ equal voting rights offer them legitimacy as crucial actors in the social dialogue process, particularly for employees in rural and informal contexts. Cooperatives share qualities of good governance such as openness, responsibility, accountability, involvement, responsiveness to the needs of the people, and respect for the rule of law. The development of a joint strategy by trade unions and cooperatives can concentrate on a variety of issues, such as preventing the erosion of worker rights, the flexibilization of labour, the loss of jobs, and privatization, i.e., the challenges posed by the new forms of employment and the erosion of the traditional employment relationship.

Also Read: Innovative Finance Models for Sustainable Cities of the Future

Employee Buyouts

As a result of the changing nature of work and production, many businesses are failing or, in some cases, relocating production to countries with lower labour costs, resulting in the loss of jobs. This has been especially prevalent during economic and financial crises. While the majority of these businesses cannot be saved, workers in firms with economic potential can sometimes purchase them and convert them into worker cooperatives. A shift towards worker ownership is not always the result of an enterprise’s failure; it may be due to the retirement of ageing owners, especially when there is no clear plan for the enterprise’s future.

Cooperatives among Independent Producers and Independent Contractors

Self-employed individuals, especially those in the gig economy who engage in freelancing and independent contracting, frequently have a totally different history than workers in failed businesses who resort to cooperatives in response to the imminent fear of losing their employment. These workers are among the lowest-paid, and they frequently fall outside of traditional employment arrangements and related protection mechanisms. They may also face extra obstacles in the form of transaction charges, including agency fees, prompt payment, and the right to contract, among others. This sort of employment is prevalent among the vast majority of workers in the Global South and is becoming increasingly prevalent for workers in the Global North, particularly new entrants to the labour markets. Workers in the gig economy who have been misclassified as independent contractors form cooperatives, for instance, to reduce workspace rent or billing expenses. They are able to restore some of their rights and advantages and have a greater say in how their enterprises are governed by forming cooperatives.


Shaina Kandel is pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. She has a background in Organizational Development and Healthcare Consulting. She is passionate about creating sustainable food systems and improving the health and wellbeing of our communities.

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