Structure and performance of Italian cooperatives

30 January 2019

The Istat-Euricse report on the size of the cooperative sector

On 25 January 2019, in accordance with Euricse, the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) published the first report on the size of the cooperative sector. The report is part of the research agreement “Dimensions, evolution and characteristics of the social economy” stipulated between Istat and Euricse with the aim of providing a homogeneous statistical framework on organisations in the social economy. Further presentations will follow, along with excerpts of the ebook in English, in the coming months.

Over the past decade, there have been a series of attempts to measure the size of the system of Italian cooperatives utilising various data sources, both from representative associations as well as administrative sources. Though the results do not always match, these attempts have served to increase interest in evaluating the specific role and economic and occupational importance of cooperatives in Italy. This interest has been reinforced by the lasting nature of the recent economic crisis, which has highlighted that, in order to identify strategies that can put Italy on a pathway to growth, it is necessary to carefully evaluate the contribution that may derive not only from each individual sector or public or private institution, but also from specific types of businesses. The opportunity thus arose to go beyond the classification of economic and employment variables by institutional sector and by companies in ‘non-financial corporations’ and ‘financial companies’, and to give particular attention to the plurality of forms of enterprise and the nature of different business owners and their interests.

This task of statistical representation of the cooperative sector is now facilitated by the periodic release of official data by the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) which, through combined use with the ASIA statistical register (enterprises, local units, employment and groups) and economic microdata archives (SBS frame), enables the monitoring of cooperatives, guaranteeing the availability of annual data on the locations of businesses, their economic activity and employment. For its part, the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (Eurisce) has placed the mapping of Italian cooperatives at the centre of its research activity since its establishment, through the collection and systematisation of reliable and periodically updated information on the sector.

The Istat-Euricse report on the size of the cooperative sector aims therefore to overcome the limits found so far by combining the quality of the information produced by Istat (consistent with the rules defined by the European Statistical System) with Eurisce’s specific skills in the cooperative arena. The report has two objectives: define the boundaries of cooperation, and therefore the weight of the sector within the national economy, and identify the sectors in which cooperatives have the greatest importance and are more dynamic, highlighting their specific characteristics and competitive benefits, especially when compared to other types of business. With regards to the first objective, the report seeks to make headway in analysing the size of the sector, including in an official manner cooperative groups, meaning taking into account also shareholder businesses controlled by cooperatives. The second objective seeks to gain insight into the distribution and relevance of cooperatives by geographical area and economic sector, considering as well the prevalence (and significance) of the different types of cooperatives (agricultural, consumer, etc.).

Along with this line of research, the definition of the consistency of Italian cooperatives in 2015 is accompanied by an analysis of their behaviour during the economic crisis and the characteristics of employment within these cooperatives.


The cooperation framework in Italy

In 2015, there were 59,027 active cooperatives  – equal to 1.3% of companies operating on national territory – employing just over 1.2 million workers, equivalent to 7.1% of the total employment rates for businesses. These cooperatives, excluding financial and insurance cooperatives, generated a value added of 28.6 billion Euros, equivalent to 4% of the total value added of private companies (excluding credit and insurance companies).

Worker cooperatives stand out amongst the active cooperatives – 29,414 cooperatives, 49.8% of the total, with social (14,263, i.e. 24.2%), user or consumer (3,844, i.e. 6.5%) and primary sector producer cooperatives (1,791, equal to 3% of the total). Worker and social cooperatives, in addition to registering the largest number of enterprises, are also the two types of cooperatives that have generated the greatest value added (Table 2) – 12.9 and 8.1 billion Euros, overall 73.4% of the total generated by cooperatives in 2015. Amongst the remaining typologies, the contribution of primary sector producer cooperatives cannot be ignored. With 2.6 billion Euros of added value recorded in 2015, they contributed 9.2% of total added value.