Co-op Principles

Statement of Co-operative Identity


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.

The definition makes it clear that it is people voluntary coming together to meet their needs that forms the basis for a co-op. For a worker co-op the key need is viable and fulfilling employment for the members.


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

The values clearly indicate the ethics and solidarity that members of a worker co-op must follow and that should guide the co-op’s actions both with its members and customers,and with the broader community. Following these common values provides the foundation for building the commitment from, and relationship between, the members that is required for the co-op’s long-term success.


The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice. Members of worker co-operatives should be aware of the ideals that set them apart from conventional capitalist businesses.

1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership

Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, 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.

It is important to note here that the key service used in the worker co-op is employment and therefore the membership while open and non-discriminatory is usually limited to the people that work for the worker co-op.

2nd Principle: Democratic Member Control

Co-operatives are democratic organizations 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 organized in a democratic manner.

In a worker co-op (a primary co-op) each member has one vote. The members elect a board of directors that has the authority and the responsibility for the management and supervision of the co-op. The directors are accountable to the members. For this democracy to be effective in the worker co-op following the Co-operative Values is essential. It is also essential that the members take their responsibility to participate seriously.

3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. They 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; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

This principle expresses the fundamental economic difference between a worker co-op and a traditional business. In a worker co-op capital is the servant of the co-operative. Returns on capital are always subordinate to the primary way of sharing the surplus (profits) between the members which is based upon amount of work they have contributed to the co-operative.

4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence

Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, 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.

This principle emphasizes that as an independent enterprise a worker co-op depends upon it members commitment and hard work for its success. It is no one else’s job. It also indicates how important it is that any agreement made to secure capital for the co-op’s operations should be on terms which ensure the members remain in control of the co-op.

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.

To run a worker co-op successfully the members must have many skills. Few members come to a worker co-op with all these skills, so to succeed the co-op must ensure that the members, directors and managers get the training they need to fully contribute to the success of the co-op.

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.

In the same way the members of a worker co-op benefit from their mutual efforts, their co-op (and thus themselves) can benefit from co-operating with other co-operatives often by forming service federations with similar co-ops. For worker co-ops the CWCF is such a federation and provides benefits to its members in the areas of training, financing and information sharing while also securing grants that are accessible for member projects.

7th Principle: Concern for Community

While focusing on member needs and wishes, co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities

Worker co-ops must always remember that they are ultimately dependent upon their larger community and the natural environment. In all activities designed to meet their own needs they should consider how to carry them out in a sustainable fashion that strengthens their communities.