Key figures

Number of cooperatives per sector
Employees and members per sector
Key figures
Key figures

Research overview


Responding to challenges and existing knowledge gaps facing the cooperative movement, this mapping research seeks to provide exhaustive information on cooperatives around the world.

This is achieved through a process jointly conducted by the ICA and its four regional offices – Cooperatives of the Americas, Cooperatives Europe, ICA Africa, and ICA Asia-Pacific – using a common methodology, designed with the support of external experts from the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (Euricse).

Each office collected the input of ICA members present in the countries within its geographic area, by using a common questionnaire, and completing it with relevant national statistics, in order to obtain a picture of the national situation. As a result, the data above is collected following two strategies: 1) a survey targeting ICA cooperative members 2) collecting national statistics already available in the country. The numbers above provide aggregated data from ICA members on the number of cooperatives, as well as the number of cooperative employees and memberships in the country. More methodological information is available in the full report. In Germany, the data is collected for the reference year 2017.

Mapping out cooperatives in each country provides a more precise picture of the cooperative context at national and regional levels, enhances the movement's visibility, networking, partnerships opportunities, as well as advocacy, and empowers cooperators by providing tools for positive change.

This webpage presents a snapshot of the research results for Germany. For more information and the full research results, you can download the highlights and the report by clicking on the links above.




The German cooperative movement originated in the 1840s with early credit cooperatives, a model that become increasingly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The two most influential figures of the movement, Franz Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch (1808-1883) and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen (1818-1888), both played crucial roles in its early foundations. In 1847, Raffiesen created an association to aid the indebted rural poor in Weyerbusch (Westerwald), combatting usurious money lending that had taken hold under industrialisation by extending small loans to farmers on favorable repayment conditions.

In recent decades, German society has made great progress to becoming a powerful modern service economy. Today cooperatives are growing in number and are diversifying their activities in a number of new sectors, such as ICT, media, education or health, with over 500 founded in the last three years, according to DGRV, an ICA member organisation. In 2015, the Federal Republic of Germany nominated the cooperative idea to be added to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity under UNESCO, which was officially accepted in 2016.





Germany counts 3 ICA member organisations:


DGRV - Deutscher Genossenschafts-und Raiffeisenverband e.V. The German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Confederation, DGRV, is a full member and an intersectoral national organization.

GdW Bundesverband deutscher Wohnungs-und Immobilienunternehmen e.V. GdW is a full Member in the housing sector and a national organization.

Zentralverband deutscher Konsumgenossenschaften (ZdK) e.V. ZdK is an associate member in the consumer sector and a national organization.


In Germany the research questionnaire was distributed to and completed by 2 ICA member organisations and 1 Associate member in the country. The data collected was for the reference year 2017.




ICA members represent over 7300 cooperatives in the country, with a total number of memberships of 22,539,000, and a total number of 943,579 employees.

User cooperatives, producer cooperatives, worker cooperatives and multi-stakeholder cooperatives are all present in Germany.

Its member organisations are active in the several sectors, including Banking, Real estate, Agriculture, Wholesale and Retail Trade, Accommodation and food service activities, and Utilities. The graphics above provide more information. 


The legal framework analysis aims to provide general knowledge of the national cooperative legislation and of its main characteristics and contents, with particular regard to those aspects of regulation regarding the identity of cooperatives and its distinction from other types of business organisations, notably the for-profit shareholder corporation.It aims to evaluate whether the national legislation in place supports or hampers the development of cooperatives, and is therefore “cooperative friendly” or not, and the degree to which it may be considered so, also in comparison to the legislation in force in other countries of the ICA region, or at the supranational level.In addition, the research aims to provide recommendations for eventual renewal of the legal frameworks in place in order to understand what changes in the current legislation would be necessary to improve its degree of “cooperative friendliness”, which is to say, to make the legislation more favourable to cooperatives, also in consideration of their specific identity. A snapshot of the results for Germany are displayed below. To download the full report, click on the links above.


German cooperative legislation is amongst the oldest in the world and has served as inspiration for other countries, particularly in Europe and Asia. In Germany, all registered cooperatives fall under the Co-operative Societies Act of 1889.

This law has been amended many times over the years, most recently in 2006 in order to reflect the introduction of the EU’s Cooperative Society Regulation of 2003. At the same time, special rules apply to certain forms of cooperative. For example, cooperative banks are subject to banking law, whilst housing cooperatives benefitted from a law granting tax exemptions until this law was revoked in 1990 (though existing housing cooperatives can apply for extensions of their tax-exempt status).

The ICA cooperative principles are not expressly mentioned in the German Co-operative Societies Act, yet the definition contained in §1(1) contains reference to the first two principles: voluntary and open membership and democratic member control. Implicitly, the ICA principles are underlined in several articles of the law.

However, certain legislative amendments have allowed for deviations from the ICA principles to take place. For example, organisations are allowed to set a minimum capital under §8a, and plural voting is permitted under §43(3).


Cooperative friendliness

Germany’s law on cooperatives is notable for its flexibility which allows for innovation and for new forms of cooperatives to develop. Auditing requirements also ensure that cooperatives are integrated into a strong vertical network, protected against hostile takeovers, and rarely go bankrupt.


Key recommendations for improvement

Efforts should be concentrated on maintaining the clear profile of cooperative societies as self-help organisations for the promotion of their members in accordance with ICA’s cooperative principles. Whilst it is recognised that the auditing requirements lead to high legal and organisational costs for the formation of smaller cooperatives, changes to the auditing requirements are not recommended. Furthermore, cooperatives in Germany would benefit from greater visibility, which could be achieved by including cooperatives within the university curricula.



Overall, cooperatives in Germany benefit from a strong and comprehensive legal framework, yet efforts should ensure the profile of cooperatives remains distinct from other types of enterprise.





The legal frameworks analysis is a tool developed under the ICA-EU Partnership #coops4dev. It is an overview of the national legal frameworks at the time of writing. The views expressed within are not necessarily those of the ICA, nor does a reference to any specific content constitute an explicit endorsement or recommendation by the ICA. 

Subscribe to Germany