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A brief history

The Co-operatives Department is one of the agencies of the Ministry of Commerce and Trade and its mandate is to administer the Co-operative Societies Act, Cap.378A; the Friendly Societies Act, Cap.379; the Building Societies Act, Cap.377; and the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, Cap.380. There are no societies registered under the last two (2) Acts mentioned.

The Co-operative Societies Act was first passed in response to the call for the establishment of co-operatives. The first co-operative, Shamrock, pre-dated the passing of the Act and it still continues as a going concern over sixty years later

On May 09, 1952, the first society to be registered under the Act was St. Barnabas Co-operative Marketing Society Limited. At that time the Ministry of Agriculture and Science had responsibility for co-operatives and the Director of Agriculture was also the Registrar of Co-operative Societies.

In 1961, a separate Co-operatives Division with a technical staff comprising one (1) Registrar and three (3) Co-operatives Officers was set up under the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, and its functions were expanded by the transfer of responsibility from the Supreme Court for friendly societies; building societies; and industrial and provident societies.

In 1966, the Division was transferred to the Ministry of Trade.

In 1971, it was transferred again to the Ministry of Agriculture. It remained there until 1985.

In 1985, it was placed again under the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Commerce.

In 1989, the Department was restructured in preparation for the new demands that were anticipated under the new Co-operative Societies Act that would soon become a reality.

In August 1990, the Co-operative Societies Act, Cap.378A was passed, but was not proclaimed until March 15, 1993. In the meantime, the staff had been increased from seven (7) to fourteen (14), inclusive of technical and support persons.

In December 2007, the Co-operative Societies Act, Cap.378A was amended.

In January 2008, the Co-operative Societies Regulations were replaced.

More recently, in April 2011, the vibrant credit union sector was transferred from being regulated by the Department to that of the Financial Services Commission.

The Department is currently transitioning to not only Regulation and Supervision, but also Development and Marketing.

Mission Statement

The Co-operatives Department will be a focused, dynamic and proactive organization, which regulates and develops co-operatives and examines them to ensure safety and soundness in their operations and general compliance with the law.

Role of the Department

Section 183 of the Co-operative Societies Act, Cap.378A, summarizes the role of the Registrar, viz:

“……organizing, carrying out and encouraging measures for the development of co-operative societies……”


In order to fulfill its mission, the Department performs many functions which include:

  • Registration of societies;
  • Inspection of the operations of societies;
  • Conducting seminars and participating in educational activities;
  • Advising individuals and groups;
  • Attending the meetings of societies;
  • Resolving complaints and disputes; and
  • Conducting arbitration hearings.

In addition, by the middle of 2012, the Department also plans to perform the following functions, namely:

  • Sensitizing the public about co-operatives;
  • Marketing the co-operative concept; and
  • Perform developmental work on existing co-operatives.

Co-operatives have the potential to generate employment, be exporters of produce and be earners of foreign exchange, but they tend to be undercapitalized and lacking in management skills. This is not new, but it presents a particular challenge, which needs to be tackled with urgency. In order to address these challenges, the Co-operatives Department will be embarking on a restructuring program.

The Co-operatives Department recognizes that over the years many of the recommendations to these co-operatives have gone unheeded due to a lack of resources to implement them. The Department intends to work more closely with these societies in order to help them improve their operations as it desires that all societies become viable, vibrant, efficient and self-sustainable.

What is a Co-operative

A co-operative (co-op) is defined as:

  • business organization owned and operated by a group of individuals for their mutual benefit. (Wikipedia)
  • An autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.(International Cooperative Alliance)
  • A business which follows co-operatives principles.

In the Barbados context, the business must also be registered under the Co-operative Societies Act, Cap.378A.

Co-operative Principles

“For the purposes of the Co-operative Societies Act, Cap.378A, a society conforms to co-operative principles if:

(a)no member or delegate has more than one vote;

(b)no member or delegate is entitled to vote by proxy;

(c)its business is carried on primarily for the benefit of its members;

(d)its membership is voluntary and available without any artificial restriction or any unlawful basis of discrimination, to any persons who can use its services and is willing to accept the responsibilities of membership;

(e)the rate of dividends on share capital that it pays does not exceed the rate prescribed in the regulations made under this Act;

(f)any surplus or savings arising out of its operations is

(i)used to develop its business,

(ii)used to provide or improve common services to members,

(iii)used for the payment of dividends on share capital,

(iv)distributed among members in proportion to the business done by each member with the society,

(v)used to educate its members, officers or employees or the general public in the principles and techniques of economic and democratic co-operation,

(vi)distributed to non-profit charitable or benevolent organizations;

(g)co-operation with other societies is pursued;

(h)it provides for continuing education.”

Active Societies


1.Barbados Agricultural Trading & Investment Co-operative Society Ltd (BATICS)

2.Barbados Pig Farmers’ Co-operative Society Limited

3.St. George Farmers’ Marketing Co-operative Society Limited

4.South Eastern Farmers’ Co-operative Society Limited

Taxi Co-ops

1.Barbados Transport Co-operative Society Limited

2.Bridgetown Port Taxi Co-operative Society Limited

3.Hiltop Taxi Co-operative Society Limited

4.Sunset Crest Transport Co-operative Society Limited

Consumer Co-ops

1.Reddy Kilowatt Co-operative Society Limited

Junior Co-operatives

1.The Christ Church Girl’s Co-operative Savings Society Limited

2.Arthur Smith Primary School Co-operative Thrift Society Limited

3.St. Silas Primary School Co-operative Thrift Society Limited


1.Barbados Co-operative and Credit Union League Limited

What are the Major Benefits

  • Working together and pooling resources, a co-operative can purchase in bulk.
  • Group insurance (lower cost to individual member).
  • Income at bank is exempted from Income Tax.
  • Part of a large movement that can lobby to Government (where there is unity, there is strength).
  • Society can seek out markets as a group rather than individually.
  • Organized production.
  • Long term contracts.
  • Acquisition of equipment.
  • Globalization and Trade Liberalization (Export).
  • Persons can compliment each other creating synergies.
  • Limited liability company.
  • Recourse to assistance from the Co-operatives Department (Regulator).
  • Every member has an equal say in the affairs of the society.
  • To provide a service that other forms of enterprises are not offering.
  • As a means of keeping profits and control of a business within the community. A co-operative is owned and controlled locally, therefore, the earnings of the co-operative stay in the community and are directed by members of the community. 

What are the Major Challenges?

  • Effectively working together is a skill.
  • Persons having own agenda and not sharing same vision.
  • Under capitalization.
  • Not all members fully engaged in the co-operative.
  • Tend not to make the type of investments to increase future revenues.
  • Members may lack management and business skills and need to hire appropriate personnel.

How to Start A Co-operative

1.The process is an interactive one, and persons desirous of starting a co-operative should contact the Co-operatives Department. The Department would provide initial information, guidance at every stage and some training to ensure that the society is off to a good start.

2.An application for registration obtained from the Co-operatives Department must be signed by at least ten (10) members who satisfy the requirements for membership if no member is a registered society.

(a)The application form along with the prescribed fee (currently $50.00), three (3) copies of the proposed by-laws and business plan should be submitted to the Registrar of Co-operatives for approval.

(b)A business plan should state the following:

  • the nature of the business to be carried on.
  • sources of funding.
  • sources of income.
  • financial projections for a minimum of three (3) years.
  • the source of potential membership.

3.If the registration of the society is approved, a fee for the certificate of registration is payable as follows:

  • Co-operatives (other than a junior co-operatives) – $200.00
  • Junior Co-operatives — 20% of the fees payable by a registered society.

What is a Friendly Society?

Friendly societies are a body of people who join together to ensure financial provision for members and their close relatives (as specified by the Friendly Societies Act) by means of voluntary subscriptions on a regular basis. Benefits provided include:

  • Sickness, old age, funeral, unemployment and maternity benefits;
  • Benefits on the widowhood of member or spouse or for the maintenance of the orphan children of members; and
  • Benefits for relief or maintenance of members during periods of distressed circumstances.

Co-operators Day

The International Co-operators’ Day is held every year on the First Saturday in July.