Beyond Corporate Form: A Response to Dan Depasquale, Surbhi Sarang, and Natalie Bump Vena's "Forging Food Justice through Cooperatives in New York City"

By Brown, Jonathan | Fordham Urban Law Journal, May 2018 | Go to article overview

Beyond Corporate Form: A Response to Dan Depasquale, Surbhi Sarang, and Natalie Bump Vena's "Forging Food Justice through Cooperatives in New York City"


Brown, Jonathan, Fordham Urban Law Journal


Introduction                                                        1121   I.  Distinguishing and Categorizing Policy Objectives and Types       of Cooperatives                                               1122  II.  The Limitations of Legal Forms                                1124       A. New York Cooperative Corporation Law                       1125       B. The Risk of Making Policy Based on Cooperatives as a          Legal Form                                                 1127 III.  Beyond Cooperatives: The Role of Other Enterprise Models      1130       A. The Unique Advantages and Disadvantages of the          Cooperative Structure                                      1131       B. The Role of For-Profit Businesses                          1133       C. The Role of Charitable Non-Profit Organizations            1135 Conclusion                                                          1138 

INTRODUCTION

In their article, Forging Food Justice Through Cooperatives in New York City, Dan DePasquale, Surbhi Sarang, and Natalie Bump Vena (the "Authors") argue that consumer-owned and worker-owned cooperatives hold promise as a means for advancing policy objectives associated with "food justice," namely building community wealth and power and providing more affordable access to healthy food in low-income and minority communities. (1) Looking to examples of legislation and policies in other jurisdictions, they advocate for a wide range of policies to promote the viability of cooperatives in New York City, including reforms to cooperative corporation laws and strategies for better allocating funding and technical assistance to cooperatives. (2) I largely agree with the Authors' argument and support their effort to identify practical policy solutions that would help food cooperatives in New York City overcome barriers to success. This Response makes three observations about their proposals. First, this Response observes that food access and economic development are distinct objectives and that consumer and worker cooperatives may have different roles to play in food justice strategies depending on how these objectives are defined and prioritized. Second, the significance of cooperative corporation statutes may be overstated, both because a variety of legal entity forms are available to cooperative organizations (mitigating the impact of potential reforms to New York's cooperative corporation law) and because the legal form itself does not guarantee adoption of many of the values and principles commonly associated with cooperatives. Third, this Response argues that the role of other, non-cooperative organizational models should not be overlooked in shaping policy in this area. This Response advocates for a more comprehensive strategy that promotes a wide range of community-based businesses and organizations, including but not limited to cooperatives, and that allocates resources according to the identity of organizations' stakeholders and the degree of their community impact, rather than relying on their legal form.

I. DISTINGUISHING AND CATEGORIZING POLICY OBJECTIVES AND TYPES OF COOPERATIVES

This Part briefly parses the policy objectives and categories of cooperative models identified in the Author's article, before proceeding with an analysis of the Authors' proposals in Parts II and III. The objectives of the "food justice movement" identified by the Authors can be categorized into two central goals: the first, to "redress food insecurity as well as other inequities throughout the food system," by such means as establishing "alternative pathways for bringing healthy food" to underserved communities, and the second, "the economic development and revival of communities and the creation of sustainable livelihoods." (4) They observe that in both cases, the "food justice" approach emphasizes community-driven solutions to structural inequities. (5)

It is worth noting that food access and economic development are related, but nevertheless distinct, policy objectives. …

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