The origins of the cooperative movement in France date back to the middle of the 19th Century, with the aims of improving working conditions during the industrial revolution and gaining fairer distribution of wealth. The country benefits from a broad history of cooperation with various currents, including agricultural, financial, worker and consumer cooperation, as well as other forms.
The revolutionary events of 1848 were followed by the emergence of numerous worker associations and production cooperatives between 1849 and 1855, with the production cooperatives most often linked to trade union activism. By 1890, around 200 cooperatives were counted by the Ministry for Industry, mostly city-based artisans. Freedom of association became progressively more developed towards the end of the 19th Century.
After the Second World War, the General Law on cooperatives of 1947 had a large impact on shaping the variety of cooperative types in France and provided a general framework to build on the initial legal provisions that had gradually developed in sectors including agriculture, low-cost housing cooperatives, production, worker cooperatives and consumer cooperatives.
Despite a crisis in the consumer cooperative movement, the latter half of the twentieth century saw a stronger increase in employment and job creation by cooperative enterprises than the economy as a whole. For example, for worker cooperatives, the cooperative society (SCOP) and its regulation under the 1978 law was linked to strong growth in the French cooperative movement, and by 1983 the Confédération générale des Scop counted nearly 1300 member cooperatives representing 24,000 worker-members.
In 2001, legislation emerged on the Société coopérative d’intérêt collectif (SCIC), allowing people to organise around a common objective with the aim of social utility, or with a link to the sustainable development needs of an area. They also enable a variety of stakeholders to go into partnership on a common project and their membership includes employees, services users and contributors.
Since 1968, the broad and wide ranging cooperative movement in France has been represented by Coop FR. The French cooperative movement has continued to evolve in size and importance, and Coop FR today spans 23,000 cooperatives, with nearly 29 million members and 1.2 million employees. The French cooperative sector notably makes up 40% of the country’s food industry, 30% of the retail industry and 70% of retail banking.