Established in 1975, Friends of the Earth Melbourne’s Food Co-operative addresses sustainability at a fundamental level − fulfilling our basic needs in a way that’s healthy, fair and affordable for people and the environment. As one of the first food co-operatives in Australia, it is a pioneer of the ‘Social and Solidarity economy’ and has served as a model for others to replicate.  By empowering workers to control their workplaces, cooperatives provide a democratic alternative to the corporate business model that often exploits people for profit.

The FoE Food Co-op is an ethical trader that serves over 10,000 delicious meals per year and provides fruit, vegetables, grains and eco-cleaning products. The emphasis is on providing natural, organic and packaging-free produce that is grown and produced as locally as possible − preferably by small companies and producers. It is also a community hub that has been bringing people together to collaborate and campaign on environmental and social justice issues for over 40 years. In 2014, the Food Co-op received the City of Yarra Sustainable Business award.

Rather than profits for shareholders, the solidarity economy seeks to create positive social and environmental benefits from their activities. The income generated by the Co-op supports Friends of the Earth’s environmental campaigns and a hospitality training program for the disadvantaged. Because cooperatives are owned by those who use their  services, their decisions must take into account the wider interests of the community. ‘Reduce, reuse and recycle’ is the foundation of FoE Australia’s work.

In 2012 the non-for-profit sector contributed AUS$55 billion (US$ 40 billion) to the Australian economy and the number of cooperatives and non-for-profit businesses continues to grow. Yet for the Social and Solidarity economy to have a truly transformational impact we need effective public policy to foster, strengthen and support the scaling up of cooperatives across the country.  In order to scale up the social sector of the economy FoE Australia needs a new collaborative partnership with government.

Policy Recommendation: FoE Australia calls on national and state governments to establish a new Ministry for Social and Solidarity Economy and or an intergovernmental body.

FoE Australia calls  on all levels of government to establish and increase specific targeted programs that  support  the Social and Solidarity economy. These should include providing proper access to financing, comprehensive granting, free training opportunities and preferential treatment or the inclusion of social outcomes in contracts for public procurement.