In these days of coronavirus, many cooperatives in Turkey, seem not aware of their social responsibility
Covid-19 continues to spread rapidly and take lives all over the world and in Turkey as well. There is no concrete expression that the outbreak will end soon. On the contrary, statements are made, on an increasing speed, regarding the measures to be taken. Among these measures, isolation, for people over 65 and under 20 not to leave the house, keeping the social (physical) distance between people, using mask and gloves if necessary. And contact health institutions when virus symptoms are felt…
Governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and professional organizations all over the world are taking various measures for those affected by Covid-19, and working hard in solidarity to stop the epidemic. In addition to the governments that prioritize the health of people and give assurance to their citizens by saying “do not think about money and work”, many non-governmental organizations, especially cooperatives, are also involved in the fight against the epidemic in solidarity at the local level.
In Turkey, on the contrary, many people believe that what government has been doing in this struggle is not sufficient. Not much is heard about what civil society organizations are doing.
Cooperatives, which are the main pillar of the social economy, seem not doing enough. Whereas cooperatives are expected to be at the forefront in the fight against such a widespread epidemic due to their social responsibilities, or at least according to the 7th principle of cooperatives, “concern for community”.
Do some co-ops in Turkey not realize the danger?
I checked the websites of cooperative apex bodies to see what cooperatives were doing to fight against the pandemic. Unfortunately, only six cooperative unions seem to be sensitive in this regard. There might be some other cooperative organizations that participated in the fight against Covid-19, in one way or another, which I could not notice.
Here is a summary of the work about their work against Covid-19 by six cooperative organizations that I have found on their websites:
The Central Union of Agricultural Credit Cooperatives announced that it took the following measures to protect its members against Covid-19 and to continue the work of primary cooperatives at the grassroots level:
- Until 30.04.2020, all enforcement and bankruptcy proceedings carried out throughout the country have been stopped and new follow-up operations will not be made within this framework,
- By giving flexibility to delays in loan payments, delayed loans will be waited for 180 days instead of 90 days before they are transferred to the follow-up accounts.
- Due to the credit debts of our farmers, a force majeure note will be recorded in the Register in the Risk Center.
- Principal and interest amounts of the loans, which will expire in April and May, will be postponed for 2 months without interest.”
Pankobirlik (The Sugar-Beet Producers’ Co-op Union) President said “We are giving life to the economy by paying a large amount of sugar-beet money at a time when economic activities are decreasing due to the epidemic. We have supplied ethanol to the market a few days ago. We needed cash for the economy, we also did our job with the beet payment.”
Pre-harvest financing support was provided to the producer in the 8-10 months period, ranging from October to anchor, from irrigation to harvest, by paying in advance and cash advance payments of 668 million 53 thousand TL by Konya Şeker, which started paying beet money with advance payments without taking delivery of beet. The producer also saved about 92 million financing costs.
Bursa Ecza Koop (Pharmacy Co-op of Bursa) summarizes its work on this subject as follows:
“Despite the exorbitant price practices especially in demand-oriented products (disinfectant, mask, alcohol, etc.) that emerged in this period, we, as Bursa Pharmacists Cooperative, reduced our warehouse profit to a minimum. Also mask etc. with the measures such as quality control of products, not selling products without UTS, and measurements made with alkometers in disinfectants, we did not allow our member pharmacists to reach poor quality products. For the use of our members and workers who are at the forefront of the fight against the epidemic, 3 spectacles and 1 face shield are distributed free of charge, and the actions to be taken on an institutional basis will continue to be shared with you, depending on the developments ”.
Antbirlik (Agricultural Sales Co-ops’ Union) in Antalya also participated in the fight against the coronavirus:
“ANTBİRLİK and Serik Chamber of Agriculture, Mustafa Yavuz launched a campaign to protect against the coronavirus epidemic. In the campaign, which was started due to the increase of virus cases day by day and the people have difficulty in finding masks, an agreement was made with two private companies for the production of 25 thousand surgical masks and 25 thousand disposable gloves were supplied. Masks and gloves produced by two companies that work day and night. Paart of the produced mask started to be distributed to the public with the stand set up in Serik Square. Upon popular demand, President Yavuz increased the number of mask orders to 50 thousand ”.
Gülbirlik (Rose Oil Sales Co-ops’ Union), headquartered in Isparta, also participated in the coronavirus fight by focusing on the production of cologne:
“A new type of coronavirus in Turkey (Covid-19) cases has increased the need for cologne even more in recent days. The Union of Rose and Rose Oil Agricultural Sales Cooperatives (GÜLBİRLİK), which is the union of rose producers in Isparta, has focused its production on rose soap and lemon cologne and liquid soap on the Rosense company.
The Union of Fisheries Cooperatives (SÜR-KOOP) asked for the following issues to be added to the measures to be taken by the government due to the outbreak of coronavirus, in a letter sent to the Presidency:
- Giving interest-free loans by the public banks to fishermen holding license,
- Postponing the loan debts of fishermen for one year, including the lease debts of fishermen shelters and electricity, water and social security deductions,
- Increasing the support paid to fishermen from 1.000 TL to 2.500 TL within the framework of the Communiqué on Supporting Traditional Coastal Fisheries,
- Postponing tax payments by putting cooperatives under force majeure, extending the duration of the concise declaration and value added tax declarations.
ICA to establish a Cooperative Solidarity Fund to better tackle COVID-19 and its impact
The ICA Director General Mr. Bruno Roelants in his message on coronavirus explained that a cooperative solidarity fund will be created:
“We are also calling for solidarity with those in need by asking members to make financial pledges to a Cooperative Solidarity Fund to tackle COVID-19, that we will launch shortly. This call is based on our previous experience with funds raised and coordinated by the ICA to help cooperatives and their communities affected by extraordinary challenges following natural disasters like the 2011 tsunami and the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, among others”.
One of the important differences that distinguish cooperatives from other types of businesses is their social responsibility, which constitutes one of the basic values. Therefore, cooperative enterprises form the basis of the social economy.
The social responsibility of cooperatives is not limited to its members. Because cooperatives have responsibilities towards the society they live in. This responsibility is expected to go up to “peak” on such days. As a matter of fact, in some European countries cooperatives have made every effort to protect not only their members but also the society against the coronavirus.
It is known that cooperatives in Turkey were late to join the fight against Covid-19. However, I think that there are still things to be done about the problem as listed below:
- According to Article 40 of the Cooperatives Law No. 1163, the aid fund for the members and staff which is allocated from the surplus can be used for cooperative staff and members affected by the epidemic. In addition, the surplus obtained from non-member transactions can be used for this purpose after taxation.
- The vast majority of cooperatives do not distribute risturn for one reason or another. Undistributed dividends can be used for this purpose by the consent of the members.
- The most affected by Covid-19 are the production cooperatives and their farmer-members. These are followed by small enterprises and their members, small tradesmen, who produce or provide services in urban areas. For both sectors, cooperatives and apex organizations should enlighten the government on the diversity of the cooperative enterprise and ask for exclusive support to these cooperatives.
- The cooperative unions should explain both the measures to be taken for members and workers and the implementation of these measures, and they should also invite the government to take specific action.
- Sectoral cooperative organizations, namely cooperative central unions, should mobilize the regional unions affiliated to them and ensure that the support services carried out by local municipalities are also provided to the cooperative members.
- If the emphasis on solidarity and cooperation among cooperatives is made especially on such days, the difference of the cooperative is clearly shown to the society. Therefore, the cooperative apex organizations, especially the cooperatives’ umbrella organization, the National Cooperative Union of Turkey, should be made a statement emphasizing the necessity of solidarity between the members and cooperatives, and indicate the importance of caring for others under Principle No. 7.
- By explaining why the debts of cooperative members to the banks should be postponed first, they should emphasize the importance of this process in terms of sustainability of cooperatives.
- With the (trade) union-cooperative collaboration, which is needed more in such days, the consumers’ cooperatives in the workplaces and credit and mutual funds should continue their activities with the contributions of the employers.
- On such days, producers’ and consumers’ cooperatives should be in full solidarity and cooperation. To this end, both agricultural cooperatives and consumer cooperatives should actively participate in support programs for cooperatives initiated by the municipalities.
- There is no cooperative in the field of health in Turkey. Transport cooperatives (minibuses and bus drivers’ cooperatives) should take part in the transportation of local people to health centers especially in rural areas.
- All cooperatives should establish teams of volunteers to meet the basic needs of their over 65-year-old members who are staying in their homes, where they are deemed to be careful in terms of health. Japanese and South Korean models can be used in this regard.
- Similar to the ICA’s Solidarity Fund, the National Cooperative Union of Turkey can establish a central fund and invite all cooperative organizations to join for a coordinated action of fight against Covid-19.
- To sum up, it must be shown to the outside world that there is also the co-operative movement in Turkey taking part in this struggle and demonstrating its social responsibility for the members and entire community.
Cooperative Development Specialist (Retired UN/ILO Expert on Cooperatives)