New Zealand welcomes the launch of the International Year of Cooperatives, and supports the aim of promoting cooperatives and raising awareness of their contribution to social and economic development.
Compared with other countries, cooperatives serve a relatively large part of the New Zealand economy. Cooperatives operate in many sectors, most notably agriculture, but also in areas such as banking, financial services, and retailing.
The earliest record of a New Zealand cooperative dates back to 1871 with the formation of the Otago Cooperative Cheese Company. Just eight dairy farmers purchased shares based on the quantity of milk they would supply to the co-operative, with each share having a value of £1, and representing the supply of ten quarts of milk. The general principles adopted by this cooperative were typical of those that have prevailed in cooperative societies and companies through to the present time. According to Bloomberg, New Zealand's largest business, Fonterra Cooperative Group Limited, is "the world's largest dairy exporter" and "accounts for about 40 percent of the global trade in butter, milk powder and cheese, selling product in 140 countries".
The scale and diversity of New Zealand's cooperative sector means that cooperatives play a key role in contributing to the achievement of the Government’s economic objectives.
The values on which cooperatives are based - as expressed by the International Cooperative Alliance - are those of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. These values are demonstrated in New Zealand co-operative businesses, with their commitment to social and environmental goals. Cooperatives have played a significant role in the development of New Zealand communities, promoting qualities of independence and cooperation, responding well to the needs of their communities.
New Zealand recognises the importance of providing an enabling environment for the establishment and operation of cooperatives. A legal framework that facilitates the establishment and operation of cooperatives has existed for well over a century and is, at present, largely embodied in the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1908 and the Co-operative Companies Act 1996. That legislation contains special features relating to shareholdings that facilitate the conduct of business on a mutual basis and encourage continuous active participation by members of the cooperative. The legal framework provides the flexibility for cooperative enterprises to prosper and provides structures that respond to the needs of cooperative members.
Relevant Government websites promote awareness of the cooperative form and offer advice on how to register as a cooperative, thus enabling those who search online for information regarding New Zealand’s regulatory requirements to consider whether the cooperative business model is appropriate to their circumstances.
Internationally, New Zealand’s Aid Programme also recognises that, in appropriate circumstances, cooperatives, in their various forms, can promote economic and social development and contribute to the eradication of poverty. The Programme works with, and accommodates, different types of cooperative as found in different countries, including the association of pearl businesses in the Cook Islands and tourism associations in Samoa.
New Zealand will play its part during the International Year of Cooperatives, with the New Zealand Cooperatives Association coordinating the New Zealand programme. Our planned involvement includes a cooperative research conference in June 2012, the development of education programmes for professionals such as lawyers and accountants, and other public events.
Also, as part of its contribution to the International Year of Cooperatives, the Government has agreed to fund a statistical project which aims to estimate the contribution made by cooperatives to New Zealand’s GDP and employment. The resulting statistics will provide a basis for measuring the extent of cooperative activity, and will provide better information for future policy development.