7th Principle: Concern For Community

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

This 7th Principle was first stated as a separate and distinct Co-operative Principle in the reformulation of the Co-operative Principles agreed by the members of the Alliance at its General Assembly in Manchester in 1995. Prior to 1995, concern for communities was part of the 6th Principle, Co-operation among Co-operatives which, in the 1966 clarification of the Principles by the Alliance, stated that: "Co-operatives, to best serve their members and communities, should co-operate with each other, both at home and abroad".

The 7th Principle combines two elements of the Co-operative values in the Alliance's Statement on the Co-operative Identity: those of "self-help and self-responsibility" and "the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others". These two elements of the co-operative identity and values are brought to life by this 7th operational Principle.

This combination of these two elements arises because co-operatives emerge from and are rooted in the communities in which they conduct their business operations. Their success is based on their ability to support those communities to develop in a sustainable way. There is no better historical illustration of this than the objects of the rochdale Pioneers set out in their "Law first". Each of their objects was linked to improving the lives and livelihoods of the members in the communities they served in addition to the Pioneers' basic business objective of the provision of goods and services: for example, their 'Law first' committed their society to the development of employment and the improvement of housing.

early pioneering co-operatives strengthened their communities through the provision of education, social and cultural activities. Local co-operative meeting rooms often provided an infrastructure for the development of civil society, voluntary and community organisations. the development of co-operative member organisations provided the opportunity for the development of democratic leadership skills, transferrable skills that enriched communities and strengthened the fabric of civil society.

the ethical values in the Alliance's Statement on the Co-operative Identity emanate from the special relationships co-operatives have with their communities which goes beyond simple business economics. Co-operatives are open to members of the communities in which they work and they have a commitment to assist individuals in those communities to help themselves, in all aspects of life. Co-operatives are collective institutions which exist in one or more communities. they have inherited traditions which are concerned with the health and wellbeing of individuals within their communities. they, therefore, have a responsibility to strive to be ethical and socially responsible in all their activities.

The wording of this 7th Principle, namely that "co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities" places the primary emphasis on concern for the sustainable development of their immediate local communities within which co-operatives operate. It challenges all co-operatives to demonstrate that it is possible to be a successful and sustainable enterprise that benefits both its members, who democratically own and control it, and the communities within which it carries out its business. there are numerous examples of the enormous impact on the sustainable development of local communities that successful co-operatives achieve. The triple sustainable development logic of concern for economic, social and environmental sustainability tends to reinforce each other in that concern for social and environmental sustainability makes business sense and helps to sustain a co-operative's economic success.

It is from these deep roots of concern for the sustainable development of the immediate local communities which gave birth to them that the co-operative movement's wider concerns for sustainable development of communities nationally, regionally and globally blossomed and grew.

The link between the local and the global concern for sustainable development is evident in the wording of this 7th Principle. the wording of this 7th Principle was agreed in 1995 in the context of the international debate in the United Nations about setting sustainable development goals. The concept of 'sustainable development' emerged from the United Nations World Commission on environment and Development's 1987 report "our Common future", also known as the Bruntland Report, presented to the 1992 UN Conference on environment and Development, called the earth Summit. It explains in detail what is meant by sustainable development. It defines sustainable development as:

"Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

• the concept of 'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and

• the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs."1

"our Common futures" goes on to explain the concept of sustainable development in greater detail as follows:

"The satisfaction of human needs and aspirations in (sic, in = 'is') the major objective of development. the essential needs of vast numbers of people in developing countries for food, clothing, shelter, jobs - are not being met, and beyond their basic needs these people have legitimate aspirations for an improved quality of life. A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises. Sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life."

"Living standards that go beyond the basic minimum are sustainable only if consumption standards everywhere have regard for long-term sustainability. yet many of us live beyond the world's ecological means, for instance in our patterns of energy use. Perceived needs are socially and culturally determined, and sustainable development requires the promotion of values that encourage consumption standards that are within the bounds of the ecological possible and to which all can reasonably aspire."2

the earth Summit of 1992 also adopted "Agenda 21" and the rio Statement with the following principles:

"Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. they are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature [principle 1] ... the right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations [principle 3] ... In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it [principle 4]."

The Alliance's Congress in tokyo in 1992 discussed the issue of sustainable development as a main theme and passed a Declaration on the environment and Sustainable Development. At the same General Assembly a special report called: "Co-operatives and environment" was published. the Alliance also asked national and Sectoral organisations to formulate the "Co-operative Agenda 21". When the Alliance celebrated its Centennial Congress in 1995, concern for the environment had reached a significant global level of awareness both within and outside the co-operative movement. the Alliance Congress resolution on sustainable human development reaffirmed its view that co-operatives should ensure that both their institutional performance and their member education programmes gave environmental issues high priority. The Congress also adopted the Concern for Community Principle including environmental protection as a part of the ICA Statement on the Co-operative Identity.

This history shows the close link between the debate at the UN earth Summit in 1992 and the agreement of Alliance members in 1995 to include reference to "the sustainable development of their communities" in the wording of this 7th Principle. This Principle embraces within it the co-operative movement's concern for, and a commitment to work for sustainable economic, environmental and social development that benefits communities as well as a co-operative's own members.