A new book edited by Jonathan Michie, Joseph R. Blasi and Carlo Borzaga, published by Oxford University Press Handbook
“Mutual, co-operative and co-owned business” is the title of The Oxford University Press Handbook edited by Jonathan Michie, University of Oxford (UK), Joseph R. Blasi, Rutgers University (USA), and Carlo Borzaga, University of Trento (Italy) is now available.
The handbook analyses, describes, and explains the complex world of organisations that assign ownership rights and governance control to stakeholders other than investors. The complexity of this set of organisations results both from the different degree of control exerted by stakeholders in each typology, and from different legislative and regulatory frameworks that govern these organisational forms.
The handbook investigates all kinds of ‘member-owned’ organizations, whether consumer cooperatives, agricultural and producer cooperatives, worker cooperatives, mutual building societies, friendly societies, credit unions, solidarity organizations, mutual insurance companies, or employee-owned companies. The owner of such organisations can be the consumers, the producers, or the employees – whether through single-stakeholder or multi-stakeholder ownership.
These organizations have different names: from ‘mutuals’ in the UK, to ‘solidarity cooperatives’ in Latin America. In some countries, such organizations are not even officially recognized and thus lack a specific denomination. For the sake of clarity, the Handbook will refer to member-owned organizations to encompass the variety of non-investor-owned organizations, and in the national case study chapters the terms used will be those most widely employed in that country.
These alternative corporate forms have emerged in a variety of economic sectors in almost all advanced economies since the time of the Industrial Revolution and the development of capitalism, through the subsequent creation and dominance of the limited liability company. Until recently, these organizations were generally regarded as a rather marginal component of the economy. However, over the past few years, member-owned organizations have come to be seen in some countries, at least, as potentially attractive in light of their ability to tackle various economic and social concerns, and their relative resilience during the financial and economic crises of 2007-2013.
Thus, 2012 was designated by the United Nations as the ‘Year of the Co-operative’. And various documents delivered by European Union Institutions have pointed to the key role played by non-investor owned enterprises in European societies. Decisive steps forward in recognizing the contribution of co-operatives to societal well-being have been made by the ‘Europe2020’ strategy, and in particular by the European Commission’s recently launched ‘Social Business Initiative’.
This renewed interest in member-owned organizations has paved the way for a wider recognition of the importance of corporate diversity. For example, the 2012 Report delivered by the UK Commission on Ownership advocated a greater degree of corporate diversity, with a stronger member-owned and employee-owned sector. Another example is the UK’s 2010-15 Coalition Government’s commitment – evident in its Coalition Agreement – to strengthening the cooperative and social economy sectors, in part to create a more resilient financial services sector in reaction to the global financial crisis of 2007-2008,which is generally seen as having been created by the excesses of privately- and shareholder-owned banks and other financial institutions.
The Handbook is international in scope, includes contributions from 54 leading academics and practitioners, and covers various disciplinary aspects, including economics, finance and accounting, management and business, law, politics, history, organisational studies, psychology, public policy, and industrial sociology. The editors ensured that the collection is interdisciplinary in approach. The chapters reflect the latest academic research and thinking on each topic and report on the relevant policy debates. The strengths and weaknesses of the various alternative corporate forms are explored, with failures analysed as well as successes.
In part I the authors describe and analyse the diversity and complexity of member owned organisations. This section is aimed at providing a comprehensive overview of entrepreneurial pluralism. In particular, attention is paid both to the variety and complexity of member-owned organizations and the different sets of regulations governing each legal entity.
In part II the authors consider the rationale of cooperative enterprises. The contributions are devoted to explaining the economic, social, and political rationale of co-operatives from a theoretical perspective.
Part III gives a historical overview. Historically cooperatives have prospered when they have specific advantages over investor-owned enterprises and satisfy needs that are otherwise unmet. This section analyzes the main cooperative models and the cooperative principles and values that have been consolidating throughout history and up to the present day, to strengthen the ability of cooperatives to fulfil new needs arising in society.
Drawing on a comparative perspective, part IV focuses on the role and evolutionary dynamics distinguishing the different types of member-owned organizations that populate the economic system. Attention is paid to the main characteristics and key factors explaining the success and consolidation of member-owned enterprises in both traditional economic sectors and new fields of activity to address new economic and social concerns.
Part V investigates the implications of members’ engagement in the ownership structure. The focus is on political, governance, and organizational aspects affecting each type of member-owned organization. Specific attention is paid to the definition of innovative governance solutions that can reconcile the growth in size with member involvement.
Part VI presents selected national case studies. The rationale for selecting case studies is the significant contribution provided by each typology of organization to economic growth, employment creation, and a more balanced distribution of wealth in given countries and/or regions. The next part (VII) gathers some representative case studies of selected corporations and co-operatives.
The final part focuses on the future scenarios for member-owned organizations. Authors are asked to both analyze the main risks and challenges that member-owned enterprises are likely to face over the next decades and explain whether and to what extent the expansion of various forms of cooperation can be regarded as a viable way out of the crisis.
Carlo Borzaga is one of the editors of the Handbook and 9 authors are either researchers or fellows of Euricse: Chiara Carini, Maurizio Carpita, Sara Depedri, Antonio Fici, Giulia Galera, Michela Giovannini, Silvio Goglio, Pier Angelo Mori, Ermanno C. Tortia and Marcelo Vieta.
For more information, please visit the publisher’s website.
 Also noteworthy is the resolution by the European Parliament on the contribution of cooperatives to overcoming the crisis (A7-0222/2013).