The fourth cooperative principle continues speaking to the impact of Ownership and Democratic control that are inherit in co-ops. Co-ops are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their Owners/Members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their Owners and maintain their cooperative autonomy. While this principle is more prevanlent with larger business such as agriculture or housing as opposed to grocery, the takeaway should be that cooperatives are not supposed to surrender their fundamental identity in order to get money or additional business partners.
This principle is mainly intended to speak to the core ideology of cooperatives; they exist to serve the interests and needs of their Owners at all times. They do not serve any ideology or outside influence and are completely autonomous in their decision making. The cooperative principles are meant to outline a basic framework without necessarily specifying goals or purposes. It is up to the Owners of each co-op to define their organizational goals and set policies aimed at achieving them. The fourth principle makes it clear that democratic governance is such a fundamental part of cooperatives that it is not to be surrendered for any reason, even for business partnerships or capital. This also echoes the third principle, member economic participation, which indicates that in cooperatives, unlike profit-driven organizations, money will never buy more control of the business, it will always be one vote per Owner.
The Davis Food Co-op has used its autonomy & independence to create this Ends Statement:
“The Davis Food Co-op exists to serve as a community store and gathering place for current and future owners, so they have: a thriving cooperatively owned business; access to healthful, local and high-quality food; a store that makes environmental sustainability a priority; and, staff who are valued, educated and motivated.”
The Board of Directors has also built upon these Ends to create a Five Year Strategic Plan for the Co-op.