Cooperatives are the backbone of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) in Asia-Pacific, creating avenues for informal workers and promoting decent work

Keynote Address by Mr Satoshi Sasaki, Deputy Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi at an event on the ILO Recommendation 193 and the Social and Solidarity Economy - Perspectives from the Asia-Pacific Region

Statement | Online | 09 August 2022
Dear colleagues, partners, and co-operators around the world.

On behalf of the ILO Decent Work Team for South Asia and Country Office for India, it is my pleasure to deliver this keynote speech on this special occasion. Cooperatives have been an important partner of the ILO in advancing social justice through decent work and in promoting sustainable development for more than a century now. I would like to extend a warm welcome to the International Cooperative Alliance Asia and Pacific, the co-organizer of this webinar. As the representative of cooperatives worldwide, the International Cooperative Alliance has held a general consultative status since the establishment of the ILO.

This webinar organized by the ILO and the International Cooperative Alliance Asia and Pacific is timely, given that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the ILO Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Cooperatives and the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Cooperatives. In June this year, the 110th International Labour Conference adopted a Resolution and Conclusions concerning decent work and the social and solidarity economy, or these day popularly called the SSE. The Conclusions include an international definition of the SSE, which is the first time an international definition was adopted within the United Nations system. Cooperatives, associations, mutual societies, foundations, social enterprises, self-help groups and other entities operating according to a set of SSE values and principles are included in this definition. This is a significant milestone as SSE entities are values and principles-based organizations that put people over profit at the heart of their operations. As the world faces numerous interrelated economic, social and environmental challenges, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, SSE entities have stepped up to support their members and communities across sectors and regions. SSE entities have shown their resilience in response to crises, demonstrating their capacity to retain jobs and some even experiencing job growth. They have shown us how to build back better in a more inclusive and sustainable way.

In Asia and the Pacific, cooperatives constitute the backbone of the SSE, as in other regions. Overall, the region counts almost 500 million cooperative members, which constitutes 46% of the total global cooperative membership. Cooperatives operate across diverse sectors from banking, agriculture, retail, renewable energy, housing, care and increasingly platform economy. SSE entities, including cooperatives, play a vital role in creating and sustaining jobs, aligned with SDG 8. Employment in or within the scope of cooperatives concerns at least 279.4 million people in the world, or 9.46% of the employed population. Of these, 27.2 million are directly employed by cooperatives, a substantial proportion of the global workforce. In Europe, cooperatives account for 4.6 million workers, Africa 1.4 million, Asia 7.7 million and in the Americas, they employ approximately 1.7 million persons.

The SSE has a great potential to advance decent work through formalization of the informal economy by creating economies of scale, and increasing the informal workers’ bargaining power and collective voice. In India, for instance, where the informal sector account for more than 90% of the workforce, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), which is a national union of 1.8 million informal women workers, supports its members to form their own cooperatives, helping them attain social protection, work, income and food security. In other areas, cooperatives are contributing to green jobs linked to the environment, agriculture and impact insurance. These cooperative activities enable them to pursue their livelihoods and access services with dignity.

I hope I have been able to highlight the significance of the SSE and, more specifically, cooperatives during my speech. As stated by the ILO DG Guy Ryder, it is imperative that “cooperatives are not only recognized as temporary instruments for crisis response, but as fully fledged enterprises in their own rights. And that they are seen as permanent and valuable sources of decent work creation, in addition to advancing equity, participation and social objectives.” Today, it is an excellent opportunity for us to celebrate the many achievements made since the adoption of ILO Recommendation No. 193 in 2002, reflect on its key lessons, and discuss how we can work together to apply this Recommendation and the ILC Conclusions on decent work and the SSE in Asia and the Pacific region. I hope you will enjoy and benefit from the webinar today, and wish you a successful event.
Thank you very much.