Cooperatives are in a unique place among business enterprises because they mix the enterprise with democratic principles of control and do not solely seek to maximize profit, but to maximize the benefits to the members, the owners who are the employees in a worker’s co-op.
Cooperatives are enterprises that are democratically owned and controlled by the people who benefit from them and are operated collaboratively for the purpose of providing services to these beneficiaries or members.
The International Cooperative Alliance defines a cooperative as “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.” A co-op is an enterprise formed by a group of people to meet their own self- defined goals. These goals may be economic, social, cultural, or as is commonly the case, some combination.
In a cooperative, only participants who have met the requirements for membership are allowed to be owners. All cooperatives operate on the principle of “one member, one vote”, so control is allocated evenly among the users of the co-op without regard to how much money each has invested. Cooperatives operate for the benefit of members, and those benefits are distributed in proportion to each member’s transactions with the cooperative.
From “Cooperative Equity and Ownership: An Introduction,” (PDF) Margaret Lund
Co-ops come in a wide variety of forms, from worker coops to consumer coops to investor coops. Coops may also use a mix of preferred, common, and non-voting stock, or may utilize subsidiaries or trusts or other methods to incorporate investor capital into the enterprise. For a complex and thorough view of new forms of agricultural coops see: “Understanding New Cooperative Models,” (PDF) Chaddad and Cook
Notable worker co-ops are:
Notable co-op organizations are: