Most notably developed in Italy, GAS ("solidarity purchase groups") bring together consumers who wish to buy products as a collective from one or more producers.
The GAS movement in Italy is huge; groups are very varied, some informal and some registered cooperatives, and it is growing spontaneously. From just one group in 1994, the network has grown rapidly and now has over 700 registered GAS groups, though the actual number of groups in existence is estimated to be nearer 2000, involving over 100,000 people. Usually, a buying group is set up by a number of consumers who cooperate in order to buy food and other commonly used goods directly from the producers or big retailers at a discounted rate.
The choosing of producers by GAS members will take into account the quality of the product as well as its social and environmental impact. As already mentioned, GAS groups may have different forms of organisation and size. Ranging from vegetables to detergents to shoes, the products bought by the different groups may also vary. Groups are typically set up by friends or neighbours who decide to pool their buying power and purchase collectively from local, organic, small-scale producers. They have specific environmental and social justice objectives – respect for the environment and the solidarity between the members of the group, the traders and the producers. The GAS ethos is that the manufacturing process of products should:
- empower people (esp. disadvantaged groups);
- be environmentally-sound;
- be healthy – no chemicals;
- support small-scale farmers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to compete with the world of multinationals;
- be sustainable;
- be organic; and
- be seasonal.
There is no central organisation that drives the development of the GAS movement in Italy. It is a ‘bottom-up’ network with a website established by volunteers to help with information exchange, and to disseminate the concept.