Members of cooperatives

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A member of a cooperative is an owner of that co-op. Generally, they become a co-op owner (member) when they economically contribute capital through the purchase of a share of the co-op. By becoming a member, an individual recieves decision making rights in the co-op. The level of decision making rights for member-owners often depends on the size and type of co-op. But in every form of co-op, at minimum, the members elect the co-op's board of directors. In addition, members of co-ops must own that co-op equally - meaning all members may only have one share and one vote in decision making processes.

Membership differences in types of cooperatives

In different types of co-ops, members are made up of different groups of individuals. In a worker co-op, all of the workers are the members (worker-owners); in consumer co-ops (and often "food co-ops" and "community co-ops"), any consumers that elects to purchase a share of the co-op are members (member-owners); in multi-stake holder cooperatives, members are made up of at least two groups of people (such as worker-owners and member-owners); and so on.

Open and voluntary membership

According to the first cooperative principle, membership in a co-op must be "voluntary and open": Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination. [1]

In consumer co-ops, this means that anyone who wants to purchase a share may - and thus become a member-owner. However, this is different in a worker co-op, as it would be impossible to allow every person that wanted to be part of a co-op to become a worker. Rather, this means that the co-op cannot discriminate in the hiring process against anyone who wants to join a co-op because of gender, religious, political, social, and other reasons.

(Membership must be "voluntary" because formerly in some countries with dictatorships "cooperatives" had forced membership and were only "cooperative" in name).