Adaptation of the article appeared in the magazine Participer
The project to develop worker cooperatives in Belgium emerged in 2013, driven by Jean-François Coutelier, a specialist in the creation and management of enterprises. "I discovered the Scop 15 years ago, at the launch of the first Belgian cooperative activities. Since then, I have been convinced by the model. In 2013, I took a sabbatical year and have devoted it to research and development partners to grow the Union Scop Wallonia-Brussels", he explains.
The project was successfully hosted by several companies who already wanted to come together, sharing the same methods of participatory management.
Today, thirty companies with varying statuses are preparing themselves to create a favorable legal, fiscal and social framework for the development of worker cooperatives in Belgium. CG Scop (General Confederation of Scop in France) has been providing its technical and financial support for several months to start the Union, as SAW-B, the federation of social economy (Wallonia-Brussels) and Febecoop, the Belgian federation of cooperatives, allow them to take advantage of their networks. “We want to create an environment conducive to the development of SMEs in Belgium, as it is the case in France.
We are taking the time to organise ourselves, to exchange and identify the specific status that we want to create”, says Jean-François Coutelier. If cooperative societies do exist in Belgium, then some legal details are lacking, particularly in terms of participation or indivisible reserves. “For example, today, without mechanisms such as setting indivisible reserves, it is difficult for a Belgian cooperative to finance its growth without knocking on the doors of outside investors”, says Jean-François Coutelier.
Together to make themselves heard
Ten companies are part of the cultural sector, five in construction, seven are active in sustainable development and fair trade, two in new technologies and one is a recognised think-tank, representing 743 jobs and a turnover of € 162 million (2012 figures). This is a real advantage for the next step, which will be decisive; to get the support of policymakers. “We expect to get the support of regional and national elected officials for the development of worker cooperatives. Our goal is that legislation be enacted at the federal level and at the regional level, there is a real desire to develop framework structures. In this way, the creation of this status could appear during the next legislature”.
A collective and participatory dynamic well initiated in Belgium proves that inter-cooperation, networking and international exchange, are the key for the development of worker cooperatives around the world.