What is Small Business Employee Ownership?

In an employee-owned company, the workers—not outside shareholders—own all or at least a significant percentage of their workplace. Employee-owned companies are found throughout the world, in almost every industry, and are often leaders in their field.

In the United States today, there are an estimated 300-400 democratically employee-owned firms including worker cooperatives, democratically operated employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), and other firms owned and controlled by employees. In these firms, all tenured employees participate in the company’s profits and have a say in how the company is governed, generally by voting for the board of directors on a one-person-one-vote basis. Internationally, many countries have a much higher density of democratic employee-owned firms than exists currently in the United States. For example, Italy has an estimated 25,000 worker cooperatives, there are several thousand in Spain, and approximately 2,000 in France. Argentina has also seen a rapid rise in worker cooperatives and now has an estimated 6,000 worker-owned companies employing approximately 300,000 people.

In addition to democratic employee-owned companies, there are approximately 6,200 private companies in the US—employing approximately 3 million people—that have shared ownership with employees through an employee stock ownership plan.