Co-operatives around the world follow a set of principles based on principles drafted by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in England in 1844. The modern co-operative movement is founded on the Rochdale Pioneers’ co-op model.

Adherence to the principles is usually voluntary, but some principles inform the legislation on which co-operatives operate. For example, democratic member control is a mandatory defining trait of co-operatives required by the Co-operative Association Act in BC.

In Canada, co-op principles are based on the International Cooperative Alliance Statement of the cooperative identity, as follows:

Co-operative Identity, Values and Principles

Definition

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.

Values

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.

Principles

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

1. 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.

2. Democratic Member Control

Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions on the principle of one member one vote. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership.

3. Member Economic Participation

Members contribute 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. The co-operative’s surplus is either distributed to its members in proportion to their transactions with the co-op, or directed to other activities approved by the membership.

4. 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.

5. 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 also strive to inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

6. Co-operation among Co-operatives

Co-operatives serve their members and strengthen the co-operative movement by working in solidarity with other co-ops and national, regional, and international co-operative organizations.

7. Concern for Community

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