More than 20 per cent of the global output comes from cooperatives.

The relevance of cooperatives when the world is in the grip of a financial crisis was the focus of speeches on Thursday at the two-day academic session of an international conference on “Cooperatives in transition in the era of globalisation” at the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode (IIM-K). The conference began on Wednesday.

Noting that the world was in financial trouble, Lise Grande, U.N. Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in New Delhi, said the cooperative model seemed to provide stability during turbulent times when food supply had dwindled, jobs had vanished and climate change was posing many grave problems.

The cooperative sector was a winner, she said while pointing out that cooperatives owned $1.3 trillion in assets, employed 800 million people and were creating 100 million jobs annually. More than 20 per cent of the global output came from cooperatives. They looked after their members better than their corporate counterparts, had several advantages, such as providing voice and justice to their members, and were engaged in a dialogue with governments and the public.

However, their major challenges were in the higher cost of capital, access to technology and in giving due representation to women and the younger population. The U.N. saw cooperatives as instruments of social and equitable development.

In his keynote address, Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said cooperatives could be instruments to protect farmers’ interests since in these times of globalisation, the State had become the handmaiden of Big Capital and no longer acted as protector of peasant interests that it used to do earlier.

Cooperatives could be viewed as a bridge to transcend the forces of globalisation and could become a bridge to the effective and equitable distribution of gains from social and economic development, he said.

However, cooperatives ran the risk of getting corporatised, which could result in alienation of members and encroachment by the capitalist model.

Krishna Kumar Ladha, Professor, IIM-K, in his presidential address, agreed that the world was plagued by a financial crisis, climate change and unequal distribution of income. Cooperatives had in-built democracy and benefited from the “wisdom of crowds.” Cooperatives offered the checks and balances which could not be found in profit-maximising firms. “These ensured justice and equality to happen,” he said. The conference was jointly organised by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the IIM-K and the Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society.

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