ILO_Japan_Friends’s diary

ILO Japan Friends’ diary



Intern report (2/4):SSE (Social solidarity Economy) –its characteristics and challenges



This report introduces what the Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) is, the challenges it faces and why the ILO works on the SSE. At the end of the report, I conclude with my own ideas and suggestions about the role of the SSE in the future.

For Vol.1, please check from here.


2.ILO and SSE

This chapter introduces how the ILO deals with the SSE despite the ILO is known to be the organization of labour, by showing some examples of ILO’s works on the SSE.

The history of ILO’s relationship with cooperatives, part of the SSE, is so long. The ILO established its Cooperatives Unit in 1920, a year after the foundation of the Organization in 1919. The ILO has a recommendation on cooperatives: Promotion of cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No.193)[1]. This recommendation replaces Co-operatives (Developing countries) Recommendation, 1966 (NO.127) to cover all the countries.

In addition to the R. 193, the ILO’s commitment to advancing the SSE is based on its Constitution that provides a consultative status to international organizations of cooperatives, and on the 2008 ILO Declaration on Social Justice for Fair Globalization which states that, in a globalized world, “productive, profitable and sustainable enterprises, together with a strong social economy and a viable public sector, are critical to sustainable economic development and employment opportunities”. The ILO and its International Training Centre in Turin has organized the Academies on the SSE since 2010, inviting practitioners and policy makers from all over the world to learn about SSE. In 2019, the 10th and the 11th editions of SSE Academy were held. The 11th edition was held in Spain from 14 to 18 October, where participants declared the importance of the SSE in creating employment and economic growth and the potential of the SSE which divergence economic systems to alleviate inequality of society and region through equal redistribution system.


The ILO is also one of the founding members of the UNTFSSE mentioned above, and take turns to host its chair and secretary with other organizations. In 2019, the ILO hosted an international conference at the ILO HQ in Geneva from 25 to 26 June as a chair of the Task Force. There, the manager of the ILO’s Cooperatives Unit explained how the SSE contributes to vulnerable people such as refugees and immigrants. Vic van Vurren, Director of the ILO’s Enterprise Department, claimed to increase the recognition of the SSE and scaling its influence and size, emphasizing the importance of the SSE in balancing economy, society and environment[2].


The ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work adopted at the 108th session of the International Labour Conference states that “(…) the ILO must direct its efforts to (…) supporting the role of the private sector as a principal source of economic growth and job creation by promoting an enabling environment for entrepreneurship and sustainable enterprises, in particular micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as cooperatives and the social and solidarity economy, in order to generate decent work, productive employment and improved living standards for all[3].


The ILO has worked on cooperatives and the wider SSE as above. Therefore, the question will arise: why the ILO has worked so hard on these topics? The answer is cooperatives and the wider SSE are and will be contributing to the goal of ILO, “Creating Decent Work for All”. Cooperatives and the wider SSE play a part in promoting Decent Work by creating productive employment, giving social protection, respecting rights as well as voice[4]. The ILO R.127 focused only on developing countries because cooperatives and SSE were thought to play important roles only in such countries. However, as mentioned above, the ILO R.193 was adopted to cover all countries regardless of development stages because many people think they will also contribute to creating Decent Work largely even in developed countries due to changing world of work. In fact, in the European Union, 10% of all enterprises and 6% of the employment are estimated to be within the SSE[5].


Next, as examples of cooperatives and other SSE organizations contributing to job creation, we will see the cases of SEWA in India, Workers Cooperatives in Japan and Big Issue in Japan.

-Self-Employed Women’s Association(SEWA

  • SEWA is a trade union which 1.5 million women working in informal economy from 14 states in India belong to. SEWA, founded in 1972, works to protect workers’ rights and interests. Besides that, SEWA supports foundation and management of cooperatives to keeps its members get improved social protection as well as income, foods and financial services[6].
  • SEWA is innovative in two sides: membership and works. First, its members are originally poor women who could not get any formal educations or trainings. Secondly, this is the first time for most of informal works promoted in cooperatives to be formalized. Even before the foundation of SEWA, there are cooperatives in India, however, their memberships were dominated by men. This is because in most cases men own lands and other inheritances necessary for agriculture. In addition to this, works which women engage such as childcare, care for the elderly and healthcare have been considered to be informal sector without social protection. SEWA has not only formalized these works and provided social protection to women, but also organized cooperatives to have women get income from work.
  • For example, SEWA has organized Shree SEWA Homecare Mahila Sahakari Mandli Limited, cooperative for homecare. This cooperative contracts with residents association from middle class and association for women business to get constant job, check the background of both workers and customers and provide job trainings to workers.


The pictures of SEWA from ILO(2018)


From this, we can understand how SEWA has provided social security and voices to both fragile women workers and informal works themselves.

-Japan Workers’ Cooperative Union (JWCU)

  • A workers’ cooperative is a cooperative which workers and residents invest to, run democratically and share their responsibility to create works that benefit local people and communities. Its origin is the movement by an association of the middle-aged to call for job creation for the unemployed and middle-aged people[7].
  • JWCU, the federation of workers’ cooperatives in Japan, declares its aim as making “sustainable community” where everyone can live safely and happily through its business and social solidarity activities. JWCU’s member cooperatives have a variety of businesses amount to 80 kinds including care for the elderly and disabled, child care, support for the youth, maintenance of the building and industry in communities[8].
  • One of its business is the plaza for supporting childcare, POKKE in Minato-ku City in Tokyo. This is run by JWCU commissioned by the local government. There, retired women and women with disability work. Customers, in most cases mothers, can not only leave their children but also connect each other by using POKKE. As an internship, I visited POKKE last year and found that welfare of both workers and customers are pursued there and was surprised to see people feel JWCU so close to their lives.


The picture of POKKE in Minato-ku city, Tokyo (2019)


The picture of Welfare Office Positive in Ota-ku City (run by JWCU), Tokyo (2019)

-The Big Issue Japan

  • The Big Issue tries to have people to create their own “workplaces”. The Big Issue is L.L.C. while SEWA and JWCU are cooperatives. This report introduces the Big Issue as an example of social enterprises. The Big Issue Japan is established in September 2003 to solve the problem of homeless by creating good magazines and having homeless people sell those magazines. It should be mentioned that this is not a charity for homeless but a business to provide job and support their independence[9]. The Big Issue does not instruct how to sell its magazines to homeless people, considering that it is important for them to think for themselves about the way of selling magazines.
  • The scheme of its business is as follows. Homeless people buy the magazines from the Big Issue for 170 JPY and sell them for 350JPY, making them to get 180 JPY per a magazine. In August 2018, 1,837 people have registered as a seller and about 200 people have graduated from this business.
  • The Big Issue Japan Ltd. cooperates with NPO The Big Issue fund to support homeless. NPO The Big Issue fund support homeless more comprehensively compared with L.L.C. The Big Issue Japan Ltd. does not receive any contribution, but the Big Issue fund does such charity works.

 We can recognize that cooperatives and social enterprises in Japan are trying to create jobs for fragile people.


[1]This recommendation recognizes the importance of cooperatives in job creation, mobilizing resources, generating investment and their contribution to the economy, and recognizes that cooperatives promote the fullest participation in the economic and social development of all people, recognizes the globalization has created new and different pressures, problems, challenges and opportunities for cooperatives. It requires member countries to take measures to promote cooperatives. It also mentions the roles of labour and management with cooperatives, interactions and international cooperation. Normlex(R193-Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No.193))

[2]ILO(2019) “ILO co-organizes an international conference on the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE)”

[3] International Labour Conference “ILO Centenary Declaration for the future of work” adopted by the 108th session, Geneva, 21 June 2019

[4] ILO(2014) “The Social and Solidarity Economy”

[5] Ibid.

[6] ILO(2018) “Advancing cooperation among women workers in the informal economy: The SEWA way”


[8] Ibid.

[9] The Big Issue Japan HP


Next article is about two main challenges that the SSE faces. Stay tuned for the update!