Cooperatives: companies at the height of manpower

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Let us rejoice! The "Action Plan for the Growth and Transformation of Enterprises" (PACTE) launched by the Ministry of the Economy finally opens the debate on the societal commitment of the enterprise and the need to define a broader "social object": either through a reform of the civil code, or through the adoption of a new status of "enterprises with a mission".
Open forum
 
Inspired by the Anglo-Saxon "B.CORP" model, these "mission-oriented" companies would be more civic-minded, more modern, more committed... more human!
Indeed, a company can be governed by something other than the rapid return on capital and the short-term profit of its shareholders; the people who make it up can be respected, their participation can be valued; the long term can be protected in the name of the collective interests of today's women and men and their children, and their children's children.
 
All this may seem extremely innovative, but for us, this is our daily life, even though we are sometimes ... very old companies! Our 2.0 organization was born long before Tim Berners-Lee developed his "vague but promising" project for the world wide web. We are agricultural cooperative enterprises. There are 2500 of us in France, bringing together nearly half a million people, farmers and employees, who work in, with and for our cooperatives, unique in their model.
 
The mode of governance is democratic, really. Power is not linked to the capital contribution or the size of the farms of the farmer-cooperators, who are both "members/associates" and suppliers of agricultural products. It is in fact the principle of "one person = one vote" that each year sets the rhythm for the voting of resolutions in General Meetings.
 
In our companies, it is impossible to disconnect the elites, the "off-ground" managers, since the board of directors is the emanation of the farmers who are its members: farmers who invest and train themselves to deploy their skills as managers in a responsible manner while remaining, on a daily basis, anchored in their farm and their territory. Decisions are taken at "human level" even if they concern the conquest of international markets. This is how, as a collective, we share power, assets and knowledge.

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As a partnership and not a capital company, the sharing of value is enshrined in our Articles of Association. Our companies have a duty of absolute transparency towards cooperative farmers on the company accounts, which are explained and then voted on at the General Meeting. The equity of cooperatives, protected by non-shareable reserves, is replenished in this way each year to serve the long term and to invest in innovation and competitiveness.
 
But above all, the economic influence of our activities first of all irrigates the French terroirs, local employment, with 165,000 employees, and the local services that the tissurural industry can still offer.
In these times of profound change and reinvention, we are proud to be a "source of inspiration" for the debate on the mission of business opened by the government under the PACT.
Questions about operating methods underlie real questions of substance: What are the company's responsibilities towards its external environment? Should "values" be enshrined in a legal status to bring them to life and monitor their respect?
 
Each model must find its own balance, but as cooperation is our nature, we are ready to "cooperate for the common good" by sharing our demanding commitments enshrined in our cooperative statute, our good practices, our years of experience, and our values.
 
Michel Prugue, President of Coop de France (1)
 
(1) COOP DE FRANCE is the federation of 2 600 agricultural and agri-food cooperative businesses, mainly VSEs and SMEs, which represent one food brand in 3, bring together 3 out of 4 farmers and employ 165 000 people.
 
 

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