A cooperative is a business that is owned and democratically controlled by its members. Although cooperative enterprises have existed for centuries, many cooperators trace the history of the modern cooperative movement to the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, a cooperative grocery store founded by English tradesmen in 1844.  The principles that the early “Rochdale Pioneers” laid out have since been updated and adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance.  They are:

  • Voluntary and open membership 
  • Democratic member control
  • Member economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training, and information
  • Cooperation among cooperatives
  • Concern for community

Cooperatives can be organized by their sector or type.  Cooperative sectors include agriculture, artist, energy, industry, and housing. Cooperative types feature worker co-ops, which are owned and controlled by their employees; consumer co-ops, which are owned and managed by the consumers that buy the co-op’s goods and services; producer co-ops, in which independent businesses cooperate to market and distribute their goods; and purchasing co-ops, in which businesses or government entities mobilize collective buying power to receive better products and services.  Some cooperatives, especially food cooperatives, are a hybrid of worker and consumer types.