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A cooperative (also known as co-operative, co-op, or coop) is "an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned enterprise". Cooperatives are democratically owned by their members, with each member having one vote in electing the board of directors. Cooperatives may include:
Research published by the Worldwatch Institute found that in 2012 approximately one billion people in 96 countries had become members of at least one cooperative. The turnover of the largest three hundred cooperatives in the world reached $2.2 trillion.
Cooperative businesses are typically more productive and economically resilient than many other forms of enterprise, with twice the number of co-operatives (80%) surviving their first five years compared with other business ownership models (41%) according to data from United Kingdom. The largest cooperative in the world, the Mondragon Corporation (founded by Catholic priest José María Arizmendiarrieta), has been in continuous operation since 1956.
Cooperatives frequently have social goals, which they aim to accomplish by investing a proportion of trading profits back into their communities. As an example of this, in 2013, retail co-operatives in the UK invested 6.9% of their pre-tax profits in the communities in which they trade as compared with 2.4% for other rival supermarkets.
Since 2002 cooperatives have been distinguishable on the Internet through the use of a .coop domain. In 2014, the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) introduced the Cooperative Marque, meaning ICA cooperatives and WOCCU credit unions can also be identified through a coop ethical consumerism label.
Membership in co-operative businesses has grown to 1 billion people across 96 countries, according to new research published by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online publication.