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Italian Law 381/91 on Social Cooperation

Main Innovative Features -2-

(La loi italienne 381/91 sur la coopération sociale Les caractéristiques novatrices principales -2-)

08 / 1993

With approval and implementation of law 381, social cooperatives are no longer to be regarded as merely executors of social services, since they now have the statutory purpose of pursuing the general interest of the community in human enhancement and the social integration of citizens. They are obliged to ensure their democratic management ; they are subject to stringent controls taking the form (apart from those that apply to all cooperatives)of an obligatory annual review carried out by the Ministry of Labour and the central confederations.

The public authorities therefore find themselves confronted by an interlocutor which pursues homogeneous goals and which is subjected to tight controls and guarantees. The relationship between the two sides should be one of parity, in which the recognition, definition and execution of joint action, as well as control, are undertaken on the basis of a reciprocal plan and without pre-established subordinacy or superiority. Furthermore, within a context of profound restructuring of welfare policies, the state and the local authorities are less responsible for the management than they are for formulating guarantees of equity, democracy and transparency, and for encouraging interaction and integration between the various actors involved. This new conception emerges from the text of law 381, which obliges the regional administrations to compile a register of social cooperatives ; to issue regulations designed to sustain and develop them ; to take cognizance of the findings of the annual inspections to which the cooperatives will be subject; and to document, with due respect for privacy, the condition of disadvantaged people. The approval of the law also represents an important step towards the creation of a social code. Together with the national framework law on voluntary organizations (law 266/91), it delineates a scenario, albeit one which still requires clear definition, within which intermediate entities in local communities can operate.

In Italy, social cooperatives are mainly responsible for the management of social services or for productive activities geared to the occupational integration of disadvantaged subjects, especially where these activities require professional skills and constant commitment and where they take the form of services sold to third parties, whether these be local authorities, firms, households or private citizens. Organized voluntary work, instead, has the specific task of building solidarity and participation, of saveguarding the rights of users, of introducing new services which -if adopted on a permanent basis, require full-time personnel and are marketed- should hopefully evolve into the formula of the social cooperative.

These perspective emerges quite clearly from both the law on voluntary work (voluntary organizations, in fact, can only derive earnings from commercial activities to a very limited extent ; they can only employ a very small full-time staff to ensure their efficient functioning), and from the low on social cooperatives (at least half of whose members must be working members and which therefore cannot be registered as voluntary oragnizations and therefore cannot benefit from the framework law).[...].

Despite its various shortcomings, especially in the absence of a law regulating social associationism, recent legislation seems to delineate a scenario of complementary action. The more each individual formula is able to establish its positive functional diversity within a framework of joint commitment, the greater are the possibilities of enhancing the well-being of the community and the role of the third sector in Italy.


innovation sociale, coopérative, droit

, Italie


Law 381/1991 is bound to have a deep impact in Italy. In the first two years since it has been issued an increasing number of social cooperatives has been recorded both in the North and in the South of the country.


From of a speech pronounced during the meeting "Well being in Europe by strengthening the third sector", Barcelona, 27-28 May 1993, part of the documentation given by Felice Scalvini, president of Federsolidarietà, to M.T.Cobelli, during an interview in Brescia (August 1993). Record translated into French.


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