Why we started Denmark’s first cooperative microbrewery

This post takes a detour from beer and brewing, instead exploring a different aspect of our brewery which is very important to us—the Co-op in Slowburn Brewing Co-op.

Slowburn is a worker cooperative, which means we are fully operated and owned by our employees. Currently, the co-op consists of Slowburn’s three founding members, but we are excited to welcome new worker-owners as our company grows.

In a worker cooperative, all employees have equal influence in their company via direct democracy, applying the principle of one person, one vote to the company’s decision-making process. This contrasts with most non-cooperatives, where a person's influence over decisions is determined by the percentage of the company they own. For most employees, this means they have no influence whatsoever. It also means that external, non-employee investors can significantly influence the direction of the company.

So what motivated us to create a cooperative microbrewery?

We prioritize values over profit

At Slowburn, we have three core values which drive our company:

  1. Brewing the highest-quality beer that we can
  2. Supporting and developing our local community
  3. Creating meaningful, long-term employment opportunities which truly benefit the company’s workers personally, professionally, and financially

Each of these values is more important to us than maximizing profits. At the same time, we are working hard to counter the misconception that cooperatives are merely hippie-crunchy social experiments. We can (and must) operate a healthy, profitable business in order to maintain our values.

Cooperatives are great places to work

Anyone in or adjacent to the beer industry has heard stories of abusive management, low wages, unreasonable hours, unsafe conditions, and so on. These issues are not unique to beer, but our industry seems to be particularly susceptible to them. It would be naive to claim that cooperatives solve all workplace issues, but they do empower workers to enact real change within their organizations.

Additionally, research suggests that compared to non-cooperative companies, cooperatives:

  • Have more motivated, productive employees [1]
  • Have less pay inequality [2]
  • Are less likely to go out of business [3,4,5]
  • Promote satisfaction, trust, and commitment among workers [6,7,8]

We can not be bought

It has become increasingly common for large corporations to purchase craft breweries [9], almost universally to the detriment of the brewery and its employees (owners excluded, who obviously benefit financially from selling out).

Craft Beer Connections

Since cooperatives are entirely owned by their workers, it is literally impossible for a behemoth corporation to purchase our brewery. Some financially-motivated brewery owners would consider this a bug; we consider it a feature.

This machine is built to last

Most businesses start with the best intentions. The founders want to create something unique, which adds value to the world. However, as organizations evolve over time, the original intentions can become distorted. This isn’t necessarily the result of maliceit can often be attributed to complicated circumstances which create shifts in companies’ priorities.

We see our brewery as a human-operated machine which we designed to execute our core values. Currently, the three co-founders are the operators, but this won’t always be the case. New employees will join and help operate the machine, and some day, the founders will no longer be a part of Slowburn. When that happens, we want to leave behind an organization which can survive without its creators, while maintaining the values of producing great beer, supporting the local community, and being a fantastic place to work.

This is just the beginning of our journey as a cooperative microbrewery, and we’ll continue to share our insights along the way. If you have any questions or comments around this topic, we would love to hear them! We're particularly keen to help anyone who's considering starting their own cooperative, so please feel free to reach out.

The cooperative members

References

[1] Pérotin, Virginie (2016). "What do we really know about worker co-operatives?"

[2] Magne, Nathalie (2017). "Wage inequality in workers' cooperatives and conventional firms". European Journal of Comparative Economics. vol. 14(2): 303–329. 

[3] Olsen, Erik (2013). "The relative survival of worker cooperatives and barriers to their creation". Advances in the Economic Analysis of Participatory and Labor-Managed Firms. 14:83-107.

[4] "The resilience of the cooperative model". The International Organisation of Industrial and Services Cooperatives. 2014.  

[5]  Burdín, Gabriel (2014). "Are Worker-Managed Firms More Likely to Fail Than Conventional Enterprises? Evidence from Uruguay". Industrial and Labor Relations Review. 67(1): 202–238.

[6] Sabatini, Fabio (2014). "Do cooperative enterprises create social trust?". Small Business Economics. Volume 42, Issue 3: 621–641.

[7] Park, Rhokeun (2018). "Responses to job demands: moderating role of worker cooperatives". Employee Relations. 40 No. 2: 346–361.

[8] Berry, Daphne (2013). "Effects of cooperative membership and participation in decision making on job satisfaction of home health aides". Advances in the Economic Analysis of Participatory and Labor-Managed Firms. 14: 3–25.

[9] Craft Beer Connections - Brewery Influence Web. The Mad Fermentationist Blog

1 comment

  • Great concept, which I must recognize I was not aware of before you introduced it. Hope to be able to come by the christmas dinner!
    Cheers!

    Manuel

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