As you enjoy your beer, barbecue, and fireworks this Independence Day, take a moment to toast to the UN International Day of Cooperatives.

The first Saturday of July has been reserved by the United Nations as a day to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of cooperatives to cultural, social, and economic development around the world. This year’s theme, “Driving Global Recovery through Cooperatives,” highlights the strength and sustainability of cooperatives in driving endogenous economic growth, even in times of crises.

Despite worldwide instability of financial markets, food crises, and unequal trade agreements, co-ops provide a stable and local 144204source of financial services, living wages, and fair market access for producers. As the US and international community question the value of foreign assistance (“Moyo Ignites Debate with ‘Dead Aid”), cooperatives empower workers to help themselves rather than rely on charity. Additionally, co-ops are required to maintain a dedication to social and environmental responsibility, equality, independence, democracy, community, and self-help, making them a guiding moral light in the current corporate accountability crisis.

Last week I mentioned the opportunity for economic restructuring that the economic crisis offers Africa (“Africa and the Global Economic Crisis: Challenges, Opportunities, and Next Steps”). Cooperatives have already revolutionized and localized the way many communities in Latin America operate. In Oaxaca, a cooperative-based restaurant called Itanoni is challenging NAFTA-fortified agribusiness and combating Mexico’s food crisis by supporting small-scale local producers. The Alameda Workers Cooperative in Buenos Aires brought together Bolivian immigrant workers to oppose sweatshop-like working conditions and now works to build a coalition of cooperatives in Argentina. The Venezuelan government has even thrown its weight behind the co-op movement, seeking local solutions to poverty by engaging marginalized communities in cultural, social, and economic development through cooperatives.

6a00d83451b96069e2010536e4e446970b-400wiMeanwhile, in the US and Europe, community supported agriculture initiatives (CSAs) are linking farmers to nearby urban communities, helping small farms stay afloat amid a rising tide of corporate agribusiness, while building community investment in local food systems. Participating farmers gain access to a fair and stable market, and community shareholders get fresh, healthy, local foods delivered to their doorsteps. If you’d like to support local cooperative efforts and become a more responsible consumer, groups like Local Harvest can help you find CSAs near you.

In Africa, where food and job security are notoriously weak and workers’ rights have long sat on the back burner, cooperatives offer an intriguing development alternative. Successes in Latin America and the developed world suggest co-ops could bring a new level of social, cultural, and economic stability to African communities. As the international community mulls over various paths to economic recovery, the UN International Day of Cooperatives asks us to consider the role these groups could play in both recovery and development in the Global South.

So how should we celebrate this holiday here in the US? When buying your 4th of July goodies, consider your alternatives to visiting corporate stores. See what local businesses offer, shop farmers’ markets, and always look for fair trade and co-op labels. You could even give your Congressman a call to wish him/her a Happy International Day of Cooperatives and ask him to back legislation that supports cooperatives in economic recovery efforts. What better way to celebrate the 4th of July than to support shared independence from economic hardship?

You can learn more about your power as a consumer and socially responsible alternatives from Green America (formerly Coop America) and discover green businesses in your area at their National Green Pages.