Co-operatives can be grouped into different families according to the type of member and the sector. Depending on who the members are, each of whom owns at least one share, and the nature of the business, co-operatives can be defined as user co-operatives, co-operative banks, business co-operatives, workers' co-operatives (or producer co-operatives), and lastly the European co-operative society.
Co-operatives form a diverse co-operative landscape.
In user co-operatives, the members are users of the goods and services produced:
- consumer cooperatives (the customers/consumers are members),
- school cooperatives (run by students with help from teachers),
- co-owned housing cooperatives (the owners manage the co-owned housing),
- low-income housing cooperatives (providing affordable homeownership and rented social housing).
Over the past few years, there have been a number of experiments with housing co-operatives. The residents manage and improve their housing, which is part of the same building or housing development.
In co-operative banks, the members are customers, savers or borrowers.
In business co-operatives, the members run their own businesses:
- agricultural co-operatives (farmers belong to the co-operative),
- co-operative fisheries (made up of professional fishermen),
- co-operatives of small business-owners (they organise services in common),
- co-operatives of haulage contractors (the members are haulage contractors),
- co-operatives of retailers (independent shop owners are members of a group).
Worker co-operatives or producer co-operatives are the only co-operatives where the members are the employees, who are majority shareholders. This group is made up of workers' co-operatives, known in France by the acronym Scop (Société coopérative et participative) and business and employment co-operatives (coopératives d’activités et d’emploi), which help the self-employed start up their own businesses.
Multi-stakeholder co-operatives are made up of various stakeholders who have a shared objective and always include the employees and clients of the business. These are co-operative social enterprises, known in France by the abbreviation Scic (Société coopérative d’intérêt collectif or community-interest co-operative).
Lastly, the recently adopted European co-operative society (société cooperative européene, abbreviated as SCE), an addition to the range of legal forms, makes it possible to create a common co-operative business across borders in the European Union.