New evolutions and regulation of worker cooperatives

Research Area: Innovative models
Scientific coordinator: Sara Depedri
Project Manager: Sara Depedri

Project status: concluded


Employees’ participation in the decision-making process is certainly a topic of great interest today. The highest level in which this opportunity takes place is certainly when employees become members of the organization and the legal form assumed is that of worker cooperatives. Employees come to cover both the role of resources for the organizations (since they are at the center of the productive process) and managers of the business.

The Italian law 142/2001 –which regulates the role of members of workers cooperatives- has been highlighted in the past to present both advantages and limits, while the debate has been informal and not scientifically based.

The research project – which responded to a specific inquiry by Confcooperative – had the aim to really and fully understand the implications of Law 142 on worker cooperatives and to study the relationship between workers cooperatives and their members, It specifically sought to verify the conditions that make efficient and effective co-operative management and regulation of its relationship with working partners.

In addition to an in depth analyses of the law and of its operational implications for worker cooperatives, the research analyzed from an economic point of view the correlation between management and membership, the relationship of worker cooperatives with the market and its interactions with public procurement, managerial strategies, and other related issues.


The project’s main objective was to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Italian worker cooperatives in light of the current contexts and most recent challenges. Taking into consideration the sectors in which these organizations work and their governance structure, another specific objective was to evaluate the characteristics of these organizations and the adequacy of Italian regulations on worker-members to encourage their development and the development of new worker cooperatives. To respond to these objectives, it was necessary to firstly analyse the regulations on worker-members (Law 142/2001) to understand how whether or not the current regulations are helpful to the creation and development of worker cooperatives. Secondly, it was necessary to understand the additional current challenges linked both to the structuring of their governance and the management of the organization, touching on themes like the distribution of power, start-ups, contract management, innovation, etc.

Main results

During 2014, the research led to an initial analysis of governance models adopted by production and worker cooperatives and to an investigation of workplace relationships, thanks to a specific investigation into Law 142/2001. This also allowed for a clarification of the legal elements that regulate production and work cooperatives and an observation of the limits of the current legal framework from a theoretical point of view. The collection of data through the compilation of questionnaires by 44 cooperatives around Italy and supplementary structured interviews with 30 of them highlighted the different perceptions of production and worker cooperatives in regards to what are the strengths and critical issues of the law. Some cooperatives judge the law very positively, primarily for having clarified and better protected the figure of the worker-member, and have not had difficulties in respecting the imposed constraints. Other cooperatives have found that the law hinders their full flexibility, particularly due to compliance with national negotiations, the difficulty of managing workplace relationships and the cost of work.


Internal report

This project is part of the line of research into New cooperative forms and new roles for cooperation in the Italian and international context.

Over the years, cooperative and social enterprises have taken on different roles and forms, and interest in the potential of these entrepreneurial forms is increasing, especially in regards to certain sectors (such as social services and general interest) and the ability to tackle employment problems and competitiveness in SMEs in particular.

These new forms of enterprise are, however, often defined in an approximate way, partly due to a lack of specific regulation. The development of research aimed at understanding emerging cooperative and social entrepreneurship forms is therefore of particular relevance.

The other research projects carried out by Euricse, in reference primarily to the Italian and European context, are:

Social and community enterprises and cooperatives;
New production and worker cooperatives and the employee buyout phenomenon;
The evolution of the role of agricultural cooperatives.


University of Trento

University of Molise

Federlavoro e Servizi


People involved

  • Matteo Borzaga
  • Carlo Borzaga
  • Sara Depedri
  • Last publications

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