You might have heard about them. You might even be a member. Or maybe you’re just curious what a coop would have to do with a shop around the corner. In any case, cooperatives are an interesting part of corporate law and form our next stop in our cultural exploration of stores here in Quebec Curios.
Corporate law for many people might bring up thoughts of greedy boards of directors whose one and only goal is to make dough at whatever cost. However, cooperatives, or “coops”, are different. They are a type of business model, while they very much make profits, making money is not its primary goal. Rather, their goal is the services the coop provides to its members, which can range from housing (see here) to retail, the latter which one might be most familiar. In order to become a cooperative, the organisation must meet certain requirements as provided by laws in order to be considered a true cooperative and in order to be able to call themselves a cooperative.
In Quebec, coops can sometimes be told by their special website domain, “.coop” such as here, here, and here. (Respectively, these are the main coop for agriculture, the Université de Montréal’s coop for their law faculty, and a general retail coop affiliated with the Université de Laval.) However, there are also coops that have regular domains, such as this one (UQÀM).
Who runs these coops? A board of directors, of course. The board of directors, following corporate laws, are elected by the voting portion of their general assembly. Who is part of the general assembly? The members who usually supply the coop with their business, as being a member of the coop is often a prerequisite for procuring services from the coop (for instance, in the case of a retail coop, oftentimes at a privileged price). If a coop has shares, members might be obliged to buy shares. Canada’s coops are governed by the federal (Canada Cooperatives Act) and provincial (Loi sur les cooperatives) governments, whose laws you can respectively find here and here.
Becoming a cooperative member is a great way to participate in democracy, to benefit from its common goal, as well as to benefit from the distribution of any potential profits the coop might bring. The buying power of a cooperative oftentimes translates into good discounts for its members as well. Most coops are open to anybody willing to join. However, coops are not suitable for companies that need a lot of money in order to sustain itself, nor is it a good idea for businesses whose governance would not be favourable to a lot of government intervention. For the average consumer, however, coops are an interesting and beneficial business model, and worth a visit. Some of the coops mentioned above might be a good place to start.