There are 250,000 socially responsible cooperatives in Europe, and between them they employ 5.5 million people. But they are also real businesses: dynamic, innovative and competitive.
Chernomorka is a clothing cooperative which was founded 60 years ago and now employs around 70 people, half of them disabled. Here, all strategic decisions are taken by majority vote at general meetings. For example in 2003, the cooperative decided to develop its own range of children’s clothes. Today, they produce 100 new designs a year, using high-quality fabrics from Italy.
Maya Marinova, the president of Chernomorka, told euronews: “Of course, that has had an impact on the financial situation of the cooperative. Turnover has increased by 5-10 percent a year, and we’ve taken on lots of people, including disabled workers. Before, we had eight to 10 employees on this line but now seven years later we have 30.”
During the time they have produced their own range and sold it in shops or on the internet, lots of things have changed at Chernomorka. But the socially responsible aim of providing therapy through work for disabled people has remained the same.
Through various projects supported by European Structural Funds, like the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, the cooperative has received around 190,000 euros in financing over five years, to train workers, buy new machines, improve air quality and soon, to install solar panels.
Maya Marinova, said: “Our aim is to improve the quality of our production and at the same time make working conditions better for disabled workers. And of course to improve productivity, that’s the most important thing.”
For her the key to success is the cooperative, which is a form of democratic business. Integrating disabled people into the production process is also key, as well as the stability and financial independence of the cooperative.