Article 2511 of the Civil Code establishes that “cooperatives are open-ended investment companies with mutual purpose”. In the ministerial report to the Civil Code, mutuality is so defined: “to supply members with goods or services or work opportunities on more favorable terms than those they would obtain by the market”.
Mutuality has the following consequences:
• prohibition on distributing dividends by amount exceeding the rate of postal savings certificates that increased 2,5 percentage points updated to the paid-up capital ;
• prohibition on distributing supply among members (“unavailable supply”);
• deposit of 3% of annual net profits to the Provincial Mutual Fund (in the case of Trentino) for the promotion and development of cooperation;
• devolution, in case of dissolution of the company, of the entire social patrimony, only paid up capitals and dividends eventually earned to be deducted- in favour of the provincial fund.
In the opinion of Ivano Barberini “the Italian legislation doesn’t define, in a precise and clear way, what mutuality means: it leaves its interpretation to the cooperators”.
Ivano Barberini specifies: ”if the basic motivation- the mutual exchange- is the same for every cooperative regardless of their dimensions and sectorial belonging, the content of the exchange is different:
• it can be the job (worker co-op)
• the protection of purchasing power, of health or savings (co-op user),
• marketing, transformation of products,
• provision of means of production (cooperatives and entrepreneurs)
• a mix of all this in the case of multifunctional or multi-stakeholders cooperatives”.
The economist Paolo Leon (2002) recognizes that cooperative enterprises have two types of mutualities: “internal mutuality, in which the cooperators operate to their own and exclusive advantage. The external mutuality that often comes from the internal one, for which cooperatives not only produce for their own members but also for the citizens. It develops where the risk of monopolistic profit is strong and benefits of the market are weak (…) by having an anti-monopoly role, external mutuality is confronted by the greatest opponents in private interest groups, in big companies, in the world of financial risk”.
The Charter of Values of Cooperation in Trentino (2007) reaffirms:
Solidarity acts so that the value of mutuality doesn’t turn into a privileged group that benefits exclusively only members of the cooperative movement.
Solidarity wants instead to enlarge the mutual benefits also to new members and cooperative enterprises, to a wider community, so as to play as a counterpart to social inequalities.
According to Stefano Zamagni, “the mutual principle is a particular form of the vaster principle of reciprocity, typical of the civil enterprise”.