In 1844 a group of 28 artisans working in the cotton mills in the town of Rochdale, in the north of England, established the first modern co-operative business, the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society. In doing so, these Rochdale Pioneers laid the foundations of the co-operative movement and our enduring business model.
In 1844 the Rochdale Pioneers founded the modern Co-operative Movement in Lancashire, England, to provide an affordable alternative to poor-quality and adulterated food and provisions, using any surplus to benefit the community. Since then, the co-operative movement has flourished, extending across the globe and encompassing all sectors of economy.
The artisan 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.
Initially, there were only four items for sale: flour, oatmeal, sugar and butter.
The Pioneers decided it was time shoppers were treated with honesty, openness and respect, that they should be able to share in the profits that their custom contributed to and that they should have a democratic right to have a say in the business.
Every customer of the shop became a member and so had a true stake in the business. At first the co-op was open for only two nights a week, but within three months, business had grown so much that it was open five days a week.
Although co-ops continue to change, the principles with which they operate remain essentially the same
- Voluntary and open membership – anyone who wants to become a member can do so
- Democratic member control – members control the cooperative by electing its board of directors and taking an active part in the co-op’s meetings
- Member economic participation – contributing equitably to and democratically controlling their capital, margins or earnings are returned to members in proportion to the amount of business transacted with the cooperative
- Autonomy and independence – self-help organisations controlled by their members
- Continuing cooperative education, training and information – a duty to educate members and the public in general about the cooperative form of business as a unique and valuable part of the private enterprise system
- Cooperation among cooperatives – understanding the reasons they belong to a cooperative means that co-op members see the value that comes from collaborating with other cooperatives as being one of the strengths of the cooperative business model
- Concern for community – as a multigenerational business, while focusing on the needs of current members, co-ops work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members with the next generation of members in mind.