Inspiring co-operative enterprise through education

Accounting Ethics

Module delivery:This session was delivered as part of the Accounting Ethics module at the University of Strathclyde (fourth year undergraduate).

Duration: Including a Q&A session, the lecture was one hour in duration.

Module relevance: This lecture built upon some of the discussions surrounding the morality of the market topic in weeks 7 and 8.

Content: The lecture assumed no previous knowledge of co-operatives. Firstly, a brief thought exercise was conducted; it is designed to get students thinking about the relationship between capital and labour in business. Depending on questions, this exercise usually lasts between 15-20 minutes. See The Meaning of Ownership folder at http://s.coop/162hh.

The context is set by looking at the co-operative model of enterprise in general before dealing with the topic at hand. This includes a discussion of core co-operative characteristics such as values and principles, ownership, governance, and surplus. The lecture then proceeds by communicating key co-operative statistics, both global and the UK; this section concludes by looking at some of the benefits of co-operatives in terms of economic and social factors (for example, productivity and wealth inequality).

The next section introduces the idea that co-operatives correct market failures in relation to Fairtrade, micro-credit, and sustainable employment. Three brief case studies on the role alternative models of enterprise play in correcting market failures are then presented:

  • The Co-operative Group and its Ethical Plan, which includes a commitment to Fairtrade;
  • Mondragon Corporation and its financial crisis strategy, which was developed to protect the jobs of worker-owners; and
  • Financial co-operatives and their sustainable practices.

Alternative Models of Enterprise and Ethics.ppt

Feedback: 'In terms of what your visit offered our students - the awareness that there are other business models out there which do not conform to the maximising shareholder wealth (MSW) model which they have been almost exclusively exposed to. Your talk helped students appreciate that there are profitable and successful businesses out there (many of which the students had heard off - but did not know were co-ops) which do not conform to a MSW model and the assumptions that go with it, which are formed on on more democratic principles, are more equitable, and generally have a concern for the long-term interests of their employees andcommunity. 

Thanks again for coming - both I and the students enjoyed it. Given that the students have been asking me about co-ops since your talk, I think you have certainly managed to raise awareness.' - Dr John Ferguson, Module Co-ordinator

Reading list:

McDonnell, D., Macknight, E. and Donnelly, H. (2012) Democratic Enterprise: Ethical Business for the 21st Century, Glasgow: Co-operative Education Trust Scotland (see Chapters 1 & 9).

Erdal, D. (2011) Beyond the Corporation: Humanity Working, London: The Bodley Head (see Part III).

McMurtry, J. J. (2009) "Co-operative Globalization: Corporate Globalization's Unheralded Other" Co-operatives in a Global Economy: The Challenges of Co-operation Across Borders, pp. 54-84.