Principles of a Co-op

Co-op Definition

A cooperative 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.


Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative owners believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.


The cooperative principles are guidelines by which cooperatives put their values into practice:

  1. Voluntary and Open Ownership: Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of ownership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.
  2. Democratic Owner Control: Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their mowners, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the ownership. In primary cooperatives owners have equal voting rights (one owner, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.
  3. Owner Economic Participation: Owners contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. They usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of ownership. Owners allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing the cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting owners in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the ownership.
  4. Autonomy and Independence: Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their owners. 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 owners and maintain their cooperative autonomy.
  5. Education, Training and Information: Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
  6. Cooperation Among Co-operatives: Cooperatives serve their owners most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.
  7. Concern for Community: While focusing on owners' needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their owners.

These 7 principles were adopted in Manchester (UK) by the General Assembly of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA). 23 September 1995, on the occasion of the Alliance's Centenary. The Statement was the product of a lengthy process of consultation involving thousands of cooperatives around the world.