The Cooperative Movement


(1844 - 1995)



These are some basic documents of the Cooperative Movement in the UK.

Source: David J. Thompson, Weavers of Dreams, Center for Cooperatives, University of California, 1994

See also:



The Rule Book of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers (1844)

The objects and plans of this Society are to form arrangements for the pecuniary benefit, and improvement of the social and domestic condition of its members, by raising a sufficient amount of capital in shares of one pound each, to bring into operation the following plans and arrangements:

  • The establishment of a store for the sale of provisions, clothing, etc.
  • The building, purchasing or erecting of a number of houses, in which those members desiring to assist each other in improving their domestic and social condition may reside.
  • To commence the manufacture of such articles as the society may determine upon, for the employment of such members as may be without employment or who may be suffering in consequence of repeated reductions in their wages.
  • As a further benefit and security to the members of this society, the society shall purchase or rent an estate or estates of land, which shall be cultivated by the members who may be out of employment, or whose labour may be badly remunerated.
  • That as soon as practicable, this society shall proceed to arrange the powers of production, distribution, education, and government, or in other words, to establish a self-supporting home colony of united interests, or assist other societies in establishing such colonies.
  • That for the promotion of sobriety, a Temperance Hotel be opened in one of the society’s houses as soon as convenient.



Co-operative Principles 1966

  • Membership of a co-operative society should be voluntary and available without artificial restriction or any social, political or religious discriminations, to all persons who can make use of its services and are willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.
  • Co-operative societies are democratic organisations. Their affairs should be administered by persons elected or appointed in a manner agreed by the members and accountable to them. Members of primary societies should enjoy equal rights of voting (one member, one vote) and participation in decisions affecting their societies. In other than primary societies the administration should be conducted on a democratic basis in a suitable form.
  • Share capital should only receive a strictly limited rate of interest, if any.
  • Surplus or savings, if any, arising out of the operations of a society belong to the members of that society and should be distributed in such manner as would avoid one member gaining at the expense of others.

    This may be done by decision of the members as follows:

    (a) By provision for development of the business of the Co-operative.
    (b) By provision of common services; or
    (c) By distribution among the members in proportion to their transactions with the society.

  • All co-operative societies should make provision for the education of their members, officers, and employees and of the general public, in the principles and techniques of Co- operation, both economic and democratic.
  • All co-operative organisations, in order to best serve the interests of their members and their communities should actively co-operate in every practical way with other co- operatives at local, national and international levels.


Statement on the Co-operative Identity


The current Statement on the Co-operative Identity was adopted at the 1995 Congress and General Assembly of the International Co-operative Alliance, held in Manchester to celebrate the Alliance's Centenary. Recommended to the Congress by the ICA Board, the Statement was the product of a lengthy process of consultation involving thousands of co-operators around the world. The process was chaired by Ian MacPherson of Canada, who prepared numerous drafts of the Identity Statement and its Background Paper in an effort to understand the state and needs of the co-operative movement at the end of the twentieth century. 


A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.


Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.


The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.

1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership

Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2nd Principle: Democratic Member Control 

Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner.

3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence

Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter to agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

5th Principle: Education, Training and Information

Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

6th Principle: Co-operation among Co-operatives

Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7th Principle: Concern for Community

Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.


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