COVID19: How cooperatives in industry and services are responding to the crisis

By April 21, 2020Actions

An article written by CECOP, the European confederation of industrial & service #coops which represents 50,000 enterprises bringing democracy and solidarity within the workplace

While the world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis, cooperatives in industry and services are reorganizing themselves, finding strength in the people and communities they serve.

At the end of 2019, a new virus, known as Coronavirus or COVID-19, quickly spread around the world and the sheer number of people who have become ill represents a considerable stress test for the health systems in many countries. In the absence of a vaccine against the virus, many States have found themselves forced to take social distancing measures to flatten the curve of the spread of the virus. These measures have led to the closure of most businesses and services whose activities are not considered essential and have forced people to quarantine in their homes.

Overnight, many people have found themselves out of work and businesses do not have the staff needed to guarantee the same continuity of production and delivery of services to the public. Small and medium-sized enterprises, workers (and particularly the self-employed) were the first victims of a virus-crisis that has spread from the health sector to the many different economic sectors in each State. (Read more on the COVID-19 impact on SMEs)

While the virus is said to be egalitarian, hitting everyone indiscriminately, regardless of their social or economic status, the social and economic inequalities, which already exist in our societies, mean that the crisis is having a particularly devastating impact on the most vulnerable members of society. By losing their job as a result of the lockdown, people who are already at risk of poverty are losing their main source of income and being denied access to essential goods and services. People who are already vulnerable and marginalized are now suffering further from limited or even non-existent   access to health and social care and are being deprived of their network of support. Women workers are faced with a dual burden: not only do they represent 70 percent of the workforce in the healthcare system globally, they are now being forced to work longer shifts and to carry out additional work at home.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates a 6.7% loss of hours worked, which is equivalent to 230 million full-time workers, in the second quarter of the year due to the epidemic and also expect global unemployment to increase considerably during 2020. The latter will depend mainly on future developments and policy measures, according to the ILO.

From the four continents, CICOPA member organizations are calling upon States to deliver measures to help those workers affected by the crisis, particularly vulnerable workers, such as people with disabilities or workers in the informal economy, who were already in a vulnerable situation beforehand and are now suffering even more as a consequence of the crisis.

How are our cooperatives coping with the crisis? 

A post written by CECOP, the European confederation of industrial & service #coops which represents 50,000 enterprises bringing democracy and solidarity within the workplace

Despite the difficulties, cooperatives are demonstrating their ability to reorganize themselves, to reinvent themselves and to cooperate. (Read our solidarity message)

The need for a community-based economic model is vital in these moments. A model that serves its people and its communities and finds its strength in the support of those very same people and communities

In this context, worker and social cooperatives are carrying on doing what they have always done:  protecting their workers, responding to the needs of society and acting at the local level.

The following collection of initiatives that have been put in place by cooperatives in the industry and service sector around the world provides us with an opportunity for joint reflection, as well as a series of lessons from which we can learn and draw inspiration for the future. Because, rather than being an act of heroism in a time of crisis, cooperation is  a way of being every single day. (Read more: Covid-19 – time to rethink free market capitalism?)


Helping people in need is what cooperatives are and what they do.

  • In order to reach out to the thousands of migrants and foreigners in Italy and to make the measure taken by the government during the crisis accessible and understandable, the social cooperative, Arcà di Noé, has launched a multilingual campaign.
  • An example of responsibility and commitment comes from the Italian social cooperative Airone di Magenta, where thirteen employees have decided to confine themselves in the retirement home where they work to protect the elderly. “Our role is to protect them”, says the President Sabrina Sacanni.  (Read the article in Italian)
  • As well as all the services previously mentioned, CERCINA (Cooperative for Education, Rehabilitation, Empowerment and Inclusion in Nazaré, in Portugal), also provides a regional radio station, Rádio Nazaré. During the pandemic, the radio plays an important role as a public service agent, providing credible news and general information about COVID-19 and its consequences in terms of public health and economic impact. It is also a friendly companion for the elderly or the digitally excluded, since it helps to combat social isolation.
  • In Poland, the social cooperative “Równość”, which provides home delivery services, has launched the home delivery of blessed baskets for  people who were unable to  go to church to have their food blessed on  Holy Sunday due to the ban on large  church gatherings. This is a very important tradition for many Poles.
  • Very often, the fundamental role played by cooperatives in the fight against Coronavirus, particularly the provision of services and care to citizens, does not receive the headlines it deserves. However, health workers, social workers and educators now, more than ever, have a greater ethical and professional responsibility in the fight against COVID-19, while putting their own health at risk. (Read about the case of the Italian Cooperative La Macina in Italian)

Many worker cooperatives around the world have converted or adapted (part of) their production to produce personal protective equipment that can save many lives.

  • In Spain, a cooperative of the Mondragón group is adapting its production to manufacture 60 million masks over a six-month period. This project is part of the strategy to stimulate the national production of PPE for the healthcare sector. (Read more here in Spanish)
  • Inspired by the sixth cooperative principle, namely cooperation among cooperatives, 12 Italian cooperatives affiliated to Legacoop have joined forces to  launch the production of 400,000 cotton, washable masks for  people working in sectors that are still operating during the emergency. Coopfond, the promotion fund of Legacoop, is financing the project.
  • A similar initiative is taking place in Bulgaria, where 17 worker cooperatives, employing people with disabilities, are producing high quality face masks, whilst at the same time securing an income for a vulnerable category of workers.  (Read more here in Bulgarian)
  • Whilst on the subject of  masks and solidarity, the 58 members of the French worker cooperative SCOP TI, after ensuring the correct protection of workers, have decided to transfer their stock of protective equipment to medical personnel who have been in dire need of PPE since the epidemic began. Together with the masks, they  have also sent some boxes of their tea “to warm up” the medical staff whilst they are on  duty. (Read more here in French)
  • In Poland, the pharmaceutical worker cooperative ESPEFA, which has had to stop its activities, is in the process of obtaining permission to start production of disinfectant products in order to deliver them to hospitals and to the general public.
  • The primary objective of the Polish Social Cooperative “Centrum Aktywizacji Zawodowej” is to reintegrate people at risk of social exclusion and people with disabilities in the job market to ensure that they are able to work. The cooperative which,  in normal times, produces wooden decorations that are particularly popular during the wedding season, has decided to convert its production to the manufacturing of masks to be delivered for free to the local healthcare service. The atmosphere of mutual respect and mutual help promoted by the cooperative motivates its members’ self-development and integration within society. (Read more in Polish)
  • Worker cooperatives affiliated to our Czech member of the Union of Czech Production cooperatives, which are active in the clothing and chemical industry, have adapted their production to the actual needs dictated by the COVID-19 situation, starting with the production of textile protection masks and disinfectant products (Druchema cooperative) to be provided to private and public entities.

Solidarity and inter-cooperation are fundamentals of cooperatives and constitute two important values that help cooperatives to offer effective responses to the crisis.

  • In the city of Bergamo, which is the epicenter of the epidemic in Italy, hotels managed by social cooperatives have been converted into hospitals to free up beds. Inside the buildings, the all staff have been replaced by nurses. (See the video in French)
  • In these difficult times, drivers have to guarantee the delivery of food and medicines. In solidarity with another sector in  the frontline of this crisis,  the board members of Transcoop cooperative in the Emilia Romagna Region (Italy) have decided to donate 50,000 EUR to the local health service to help health care personnel in these difficult days.
  • In the UK, community cooperatives are reorganizing to ensure the provision of services and meals to the most vulnerable and self-isolated people in their community. A fine example of this approach is the Bevy Pub in Brighton which, following its  closure, decided to reallocate staff time to focus on what could be done and now organizes the delivery of hot meals for people in need.
  • The tourism sector is also suffering from the consequences of the lock down, but on the Platform coop start-up Fairbnb in Italy, hosts are offering accommodation to health workers and are looking to help communities rebuild. (Read more: Relief campaign launched by  Fairbnb in Italy)

Working from home? Do it cooperatively.

  • For those of you who are safe and healthy and would like to keep working cooperatively while at home, two worker cooperatives could provide the answer to your needs: check out Loomio or CObudget collaborative platforms.



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