Select Committee on International Development Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Co-operative College

  1.  The Co-operative College is the only national institution dedicated to the education and research needs of the UK's large and diverse co-op movement, which includes consumer, workers, agricultural, housing and credit co-ops. It was established in 1919.

  2.  The UK co-op movement has a long history of internationalism, playing a key role in establishing—in 1895—and supporting since then, the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA). The College has run programmes for overseas co-operators throughout its existence.

  3.  The college is leading a consortium of co-operative organisations in a bid to DFID for a Strategic Grant Agreement, because we believe that the UK co-operative and mutual sector can play a much greater role in international development, but needs extra resources to develop the capacity to build on what it is already doing.

  4.  Our evidence mainly addresses two of the issues which the committee has identified:

    —  The accountability of Palestinian government institutions and the technical capacities of the public and private sectors to build an autonomous and viable economy; and

    —  The role of civil society, including NGOs, in ensuring a broad popular participation in the development of Palestinian society.

  We believe that a strong co-operative sector in the OPT will contribute to securing the livelihoods of many, and also contribute to a strong civil society. Education and training are key tools in such a development.

  5.  It is well known that co-operatives played a important role in building prosperity in Israel, and the UK co-op movement has had contacts with co-ops in Israel for many years. The fact of submitting evidence to the inquiry, or the views expressed here, are not a judgment on the wider issues of the conflict.


  6.  Co-ops are recognised in many countries and institutions as self-help organisations particularly suited to assisting poor people to work out of poverty. The United Nations estimated (in 1994) that the livelihood of three billion people was made more secure by co-operatives. At least 800 million are members of co-operatives and 100 million are employed by them. The new International Labour Organisation recommendation The promotion of Co-operatives (No. 193) states: "The promotion of co-operatives should be considered as one of the pillars of national and international economic and social development."

  7.  Co-operatives were originally established in the UK as a practical means whereby working people could meet their everyday needs for good quality foodstuffs at reasonable prices, as a route to building a better society. Their vision was not simply about retailing, but about how, through self-help, they could improve their working and living conditions, and their communities. It is precisely this model of practical self-help which poor people in the OPT want and need.

  8.  There are, in the context of the OPT, a number of important roles which co-ops can play in securing the rights and livelihoods of poor people:

    (a) Co-ops are schools for democracy, and require the development of citizenship skills to maximise their potential.

    (b) Providing services the state cannot or where private provision is too costly or too difficult: health, education, utilities, credit, agricultural extension services.

    (c) Business co-operation—small farmers and entrepreneurs could co-operate to obtain production inputs, help with processing and marketing. This has the potential to enable small primary producers to combine and reach the critical mass to break into export markets.

    (d) Capital accumulation, credit and savings—especially important for marginalised groups who do not have access to credit.


  9.  In 2002 a group of six Palestinian co-operators participated in one of the College short courses for overseas co-operators—Leading a successful co-operative business, which comprised a combination of tutorial sessions and study visits to co-operatives. Contact has been maintained with the group since. The visit was part financed by the Bert Youngjohns Memorial Fund. Bert Youngjohns was a senior ODA official who did much to support the co-operative sector in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. The delegation included members of a womens' handicraft co-op based in a refugee camp; agricultural and housing co-operatives and the national Co-operative Development Unit.

  10.  The Palestinian co-operators identified two particular ways in which they wanted help:

    (a) training in membership development and motivation, in business planning and business management and in setting up credit unions;

    (b) purchasing Palestinian Co-op products to UK Co-ops especially olive oil, other food products, medicinal and culinary herbs and handicrafts.

  11.  The Co-operative Group has tried very hard to develop a product line of Palestinian co-operative produced Fair Trade olive oil, which is a good quality product and can be supplied in sufficient quantities. However, European Union tariffs on the product would make its price uncompetitive.

  12.  It seems absurd that, on the one hand the EU is one of the largest donors to the Palestinian Authority, but on the other, protectionist tariffs prevent the export of a valuable product which would produce a sustainable income flow.

  13.  The college—and many UK co-ops—are willing to extend their expertise through a training programme, but currently lack capacity to directly undertake bi-lateral projects—the reason we are seeking an SGA is to build up our capacity. There would be advantages in a multi-lateral organisation providing an umbrella for delivering support. It may well be that UK aid to co-ops in Palestine might be routed through the ILO, the organisation which has the main responsibility for co-operative development within the UN system. This could be via the ILO new Palestinian Fund for Employment and Social Protection.


  We would ask the committee to consider these points.

  14.  Co-operatives in the OPT have the potential to make a contribution to building an autonomous and viable economy. They are an established alternative to the private and public sectors. They can provide sustainable employment, credit and other services for Palestinians, and in the long term, an alternative to aid-dependency.

  15.  Secondly, as membership-based organisations, they also have a role in building a pluralistic, open society, helping to develop popular participation in the development of Palestinian society.

  16.  The UK should use its influence within the EU to press for a tariff regime which does not make it impossible, as it does at present, for Palestinian Fair Trade products to gain market access.

  17.  Education and training for the co-op sector in the OPT could play a crucial role in building capacity. Help to develop Palestinian co-ops might be routed via the ILO initially, until the UK co-op movement has built up capacity for a bi-lateral programme.

August 2003

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