Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators

Consumer cooperative in the Republic of Korea

“Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators” is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. ILO met and interviewed Ms Juhee Lee, Manager of International Relations of iCOOP Korea, at the Global Social Economy Forum in Canada in September 2016. She has been working at iCOOP Korea for nine years.

Article | 01 November 2016

Q. What is iCOOP KOREA?

Ms Juhee Lee
A. iCOOP KOREA is a federation established by six primary cooperatives in 1997. As one of the key consumer cooperative federations in South Korea, it supplies eco-friendly and organic food and fair trade products through a network of 187 outlets around Korea as well as an online store. iCOOP KOREA has pursued “ethical consumerism” through solidarity with its member cooperatives, aiming to ensure consumer food security, protecting agriculture and the environment, and respecting human and labour rights. As of September 2016, iCOOP’s 90 member cooperatives have close to 250,000 individual members, 4,000 workers, with a total turnover of KRW 527 billion (USD 460 million) in 2015.

Q. How does iCOOP KOREA work?

A. With 40 organizations and subsidies, iCOOP KOREA consists of two federations, iCOOP UNION and iCOOP Consumer Activities. While iCOOP UNION is in charge of business activities, such as developing and distributing eco-friendly products for members at a reasonable price, iCOOP Consumer Activities promotes cooperative activities and campaigns regarding food safety, environmental protection, and partnerships in welfare system among member cooperatives.

Q. How are decisions made in iCOOP KOREA?

A. In recent years, iCOOP KOREA has strengthened the structure for decision-making in order to support autonomous and member-driven democratic governance. Monthly town meetings with members from the community have been organized as grassroots organs of iCOOP KOREA where members do not only share their ideas but also acquire information on consumer cooperative movement. In 2015, around 11,000 members participated in these gatherings. In addition, as many as 3,000 members have started playing a leading role in grassroots organizations, including leaders of gatherings as well as 700 directors and chairpersons nationwide.

Members of iCOOP KOREA
Since its establishment, iCOOP KOREA has emphasized the importance of the fifth cooperative principle on ‘Education, Training and Information’, considering it is vital for members to increase their understanding on what it really means to be a member of a cooperative. In 2015, the federation and its member cooperatives provided 7,000 educational activities to more than 114,000 participants. The activities were delivered as step-by step training courses in accordance with objectives, issues, roles and responsibilities in cooperatives (including training sessions for chairpersons and directors, workshops for member cooperatives’ General Assembly preparation, and trainings on cooperative products, dietary education, fair trade, etc.). Members are able to become directors after finishing the directors’ course and passing an exam on cooperatives and iCOOP KOREA.

Additionally, since 2012, pre-member education sessions have been carried out with an aim to increase members’ understanding on cooperatives before they join as owners. In 2015, this education programme was offered to more than 27,000 new members.

Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. The responsibility for opinions expressed in this interview rests solely with the interviewees, and the article does not constitute an endorsement by the International Labour Office.