Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Children of the revolution.

Soaring unemployment, businesses, big and small, struggling to stay open, people struggling to afford things, poverty creeping up. Does that sound familiar? I'm sure it does. History has a funny way of repeating itself. In 1844, the Industrial Revolution had such effects on the economy. In Rochdale, England, a group of 28 local small business owners came up with an innovative idea: pool resources and set up their own shop, in an effort to sell items they would not otherwise be able to afford. These people founded the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, the first co-operative to pay dividends to their members. Their co-operation centred around a set of basic principles: voluntary and open membership, democratic control, member's economic participation, autonomy and independence, education and training, co-operation between co-operatives and concern for their communities. These are now known as the 'Rochdale Principles' and, to this day, still form the ethical basis of co-operatives around the world. A revolutionary idea at the time, but one that withstood the test of time and is still going strong, both at home and abroad. Today, The Co-operative Group has more than 6 million members (to put things in perspective, this is more than the current population of the Republic of Ireland) and 5000 outlets in the UK alone, doing business in areas spanning from food (of course) to funeral services! If you live in the UK, you probably have seen the new media campaign remembering the 'Rochdale Pioneers' and their beautiful ethical credentials.
We are reminded daily of the effects of the recession we are going through, and how difficult it is now for businesses, especially small ones. We are encouraged to support our local businesses by buying local produce from local producers as much as we can. When it comes to produce that cannot be sourced locally, such as tea and coffee, we are encouraged to buy ethically sourced produce, generally stamped as fair trade. Your local Co-Operative does not only support local businesses but also strives to provide ethically sourced produce and extends its reach for beyond your local area. The following is one of those Modern Co-Operative success stories.
Through its Enterprise Hub, The Co-operative promotes the principle of co-operation between co-operatives as well as their principle of development, training and education. They invest £7 millions a year in some of the world's poorest countries to support initiatives that benefit local co-operatives, their members, their families and their communities. The Co-operative College and The Co-operative Food have worked helping more than 10,000 small Kenyan tea farmers organise into co-operatives. This has increased their negotiating power and provided access to markets previously closed to them. It has also helped them to achieve Fairtrade certification, so they can supply tea for The Co-operative 's '‘99’ Fairtrade tea blend. All of which means they will now get a fair return for their crop, giving them the opportunity to improve their families lives and their community.
Although I am sure that there are such ventures here in Ireland, they are not as widely publicised and talked about, as The Co-operative, which really is a shame as people are willing to support local businesses, and buy local produce but unfortunately, some of them (like me) do not necessarily know where to go to do so. So, go on, Join the revolution! Support your local Co-Operative, their ethics and your local businesses, like their Facebook page. In other words, Get involved!

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