Brazil: Platform Cooperativism
This research focuses on the emergence of the platform cooperativism (cooperativismo de plataforma) movement in Brazil. I argue that the emergence of platform cooperativism in Brazil is shaped by two distinct social environments featuring specific characteristics. There is a process of platformization within the highly institutionalized sector of cooperatives in Brazil, which is highly organized, has deep connections with political power, and is well structured in terms of resources and components. In this paper, I refer to this sector as “institutionalized platform cooperativism” (ICP), and it includes large projects such as InovaCoop, which is structured by the national cooperative system in Brazil, the powerful Organização das Cooperativas do Brasil (OCB). In the sector of institutionalized coops, enterprises operate as large bureaucracies, generating millions of jobs and boosting economic development all across the country. Platform cooperativism is perceived as an opportunity for innovation and a means of opening new markets intensive in data, logistics, and technology. In this sense, a set of spin-offs built inside the labs of large cooperatives are evolving into platforms that pursue the traditional values of cooperativism and attempt to operate in a market already structured by cooperatives in sectors such as transportation, digital finance, and health. Indeed, the discourse on platform cooperativism adopted by the OCB reveals a strong emphasis on innovation, innovative methods, and “cooperative innovation.” Instead of mounting frontal opposition to the scenario of uberization and disintegration of class relations caused by the domination of the “just-in-time collaborator,” platforms are seen as opportunities for traditional cooperativism to reinvent itself and rebuild itself in markets on multiple sides. This, in turn, should avoid the dominance of big techs in areas where cooperativism is consolidated in Brazil, such as credit, agriculture, and health.
In this study, I investigate the relationships between these two distinct sectors of platform cooperativism in Brazil from an initial mapping of their interactions and distinctions regarding values and obstacles. By reviewing the Brazilian literature on cooperativism, which distinguishes between the “elite cooperativism” and the “solidarity cooperativism,” I present a distinct conceptual separation related to the forms of institutional bonding of emerging cooperatives. What this study supports is the idea that independent, non-institutionalized, and ideologically organized projects are relevant but do not represent the platform cooperativism movement entirely in Brazil. Furthermore, I present evidence of an internal transformation in traditional cooperativism – often called “elitist,” “conservative,” and “pragmatic” – which has come to adopt the discourse on platform cooperativism internally.
This report presents the results of an investigation, which was performed in 2021 and featured two stages. In the first one, I reconstructed the history of cooperativism in Brazil and detailed how the highly institutionalized system emerged, structured by the Organization of Cooperatives in Brazil and the national cooperative system. In that part, I discuss the contradictions of the institutionalized Brazilian cooperativism, which is often accused of being pragmatic, elitist, and disconnected from the values of solidary and grassroots cooperativism. I argue that there has been a historical division between pragmatic cooperativism, allied to the institutionalization process in the 1970s, and a form of cooperativism guided by rural and labor movements, which forged a discourse on solidarity economy and social justice between the 1980s and 1990s. This reconstruction is crucial to avoid a modality of analysis that considers Brazilian cooperativism monolithic (solid and single-faceted); after all, it is fragmented, multifaceted, and conflictive like any complex social organization.
In the second part, I discuss how the “platformization” of the Brazilian economy has led to a dual platform cooperativism system and how traditional cooperativism has migrated from a discourse based on distrust to a bet on platform cooperativism. On the other hand, I show how civil organizations, non-governmental associations, research centers, and collectives have disputed yet another narrative about platform cooperativism. In conclusion, I discuss the contradictory effects of the institutionalization of platform cooperativism in Brazil, which implies a series of pacts with an already existing system. These contradictory effects are characterized by the possibility of more significant financial aid and support from human resources while implying a formal connection to the system and the acceptance of an ossified legal format. So far, this type of pact has generated a shift from cooperatives to non-institutionalized platforms, which have sought non-traditional organizational and legal solutions.
Our team consists of researchers around the world investigating the state of platform cooperatives.