Corporate Knights, a magazine dedicated to the promotion of responsible business practices, has just published its list of the 50 best corporate citizens in Canada. Canadian businesses are ranked according to their global performance and according to a rigorous methodology based on social, environmental and leadership indicators. And you know what? In first place is Mountain Equipment Co-op. And second place goes to The Co-operators Group, an insurance cooperative of which La Coop fédérée is a member. In third place is Vancity Credit Union, a Vancouver-based financial cooperative often used by the cooperative world as a model to promote the cooperative identity. The three best corporate citizens in Canada, surpassing all those listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, are cooperatives! And not too far down the list, in eight place is Mouvement des caisses Desjardins… Should we be surprised?
We’ve long known that the cooperative business model promotes corporate accountability and social responsibility. And there are several reasons for this: First, remember that cooperative owners are all known since they use their own services and elect their own representatives to the board of directors, which means they can’t close their eyes when the business is in trouble! Cooperative transparency imposes a certain obligation of good behaviours on its businesses. Second, cooperatives aren’t subjected to the judgement of economic analysts every three months; thus, they enjoy greater freedom to invest in social relationships and prioritize a long-term vision. And let’s be frank, the goal of a cooperative is not to make profits. I don’t know of a single farmer who became a member of La Coop network hoping to get rich! If we want a cooperative to be efficient and cost-effective, it’s to ensure that it fulfills its mission to serve agricultural operations, from one generation to the next. The prevailing logic of service is that it requires an implied degree of social responsibility.
When Corporate Knights revealed its ranking, the market research company, Ipsos Reid, published the results of a study in which Canadian citizens were asked about how they perceived cooperatives. More than one quarter of respondents were Quebecers. I reviewed the results of this survey with great interest. And once again, not surprisingly, cooperatives are viewed as trustworthy businesses. In fact, even if people do not have a clear understanding of a cooperative’s specific characteristics, 43% of respondents stated that they trust cooperatives more than any other type of business. I’m not sure we really understand the importance of this information. In other words, before investing one penny in advertising, cooperatives already have a good proportion of customers inherently favourable to their cause – as long as they make their cooperative nature clear, of course.
More than ever, cooperation is turning into an economically responsible tool and a business model that is worth getting to know. Capitalism is losing its lustre. This year, three surveys were conducted in the United States and showed that nearly 50% of Americans no longer perceive capitalism in a positive light and with the younger generation, people 18 to 30, 43% now view socialism positively! This is unprecedented! These results appeared prior to the catastrophic Deep Water Horizon oil spill – which will certainly not help push capitalism forward in the United States.
In this era where information travels the world in the blink of an eye, we can no longer defraud, destroy, and mishandle our resources with impunity for the purpose of making money or propping up the economy. Transparency, which some people used to consider a handicap specific to cooperatives, is now a powerful influence on every type of business, whether they want it or not! Under these circumstances, it’s good to be a cooperative and praise our internal safeguards.