A cooperative (also known as co-operative, co-op, or coop) 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 democratically controlled by their members, with each member having one vote in electing the board of directors. Cooperatives may include:
- businesses owned and managed by the people who consume their goods and/or services (a consumer cooperative)
- businesses where producers pool their output for their common benefit (a producer cooperative)
- organizations managed by the people who work there (a worker cooperative)
- businesses where members pool their purchasing power (a purchasing cooperative)
- multi-stakeholder or hybrid cooperatives that share ownership between different stakeholder groups. For example, care cooperatives where ownership is shared between both care-givers and receivers. Stakeholders might also include non-profits or investors.
- second- and third-tier cooperatives whose members are other cooperatives
- platform cooperatives that use a cooperatively owned and governed website, mobile app or a protocol to facilitate the sale of goods and services.
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Research published by the Worldwatch Institute found that in 2012 approximately one billion people in 96 countries had become members of at least one cooperative. The turnover of the largest three hundred cooperatives in the world reached $2.2 trillion.
Cooperative businesses are typically more productive and economically resilient than many other forms of enterprise, with twice the number of co-operatives (80%) surviving their first five years compared with other business ownership models (41%) according to data from United Kingdom. The largest worker owned cooperative in the world, the Mondragon Corporation (founded by Catholic priest José María Arizmendiarrieta), has been in continuous operation since 1956.
Cooperatives frequently have social goals, which they aim to accomplish by investing a proportion of trading profits back into their communities. As an example of this, in 2013, retail co-operatives in the UK invested 6.9% of their pre-tax profits in the communities in which they trade as compared with 2.4% for other rival supermarkets.
Since 2002, cooperatives have been distinguishable on the Internet through the use of a .coop domain. In 2014, the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) introduced the Cooperative Marque, meaning ICA cooperatives and WOCCU credit unions can also be identified through a coop ethical consumerism label.