07 / 2007
In 1965, a citizens’ movement of women consumers emerged around the issue of food security. The quality of food (chemicals, mercury pollution, etc.) had become a major preoccupation. The movement understood very early on that just demanding stricter rules from the government was not enough. Therefore, transforming itself into a consumer coop was a natural step. At first, their activity focused on the collective purchase of milk. Since then, the co-operative has extended its activities to about 3,000 products, mainly in basic foods such as rice, chicken and pork meat, vegetable oil, soy sauce and eggs.
It’s important to specify that the word «Siekatsu» means «life» in Japanese. Therefore, even if the movement has become a union of consumers’ coops, the basic philosophy is still rooted in this linkage to life.
As of June 2007, the Seikatsu Club is a union of 30 local co-operatives with a total membership of over 290,000 members, 99.9% being women. This is explained by the fact that Japanese society is in some regards very traditional. Therefore, social pressure strongly incites married women with children to quit the labour market, such as was the case in North America and in Western Europe a generation or two ago. This explains why the domestic consumption sphere is mostly a woman’s realm.
As mentioned in the article « Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative Union », pre-order collective purchasing is still the main activity of this organization. However, the issues of food security and sustainable development are still at the heart of their activities. Therefore, to get accreditation as milk, meat or cereal producers, the agricultural practices must be as healthy as possible. For example, producers do not use feed stock containing GMOs, chicken are not treated with antibiotics, etc.
Relating to these activities, the organisation naturally embraced sustainable development practices. For example, milk is distributed in glass bottles. Their recycling rate is over 77%. There is no packaging with materials containing PVCs and campaigns are organized with others, such as «Stop GMOs».
The Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative Union has established three jointly owned milk plants with milk farmers and also owns poultry (chicken) farms with farmers. In Japan this is the only consumers’ co-operative which has done such initiatives. At this time, the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative Union is going to launch a new project: consumers in urban area as “the part time farmers” to support farming in rural areas in order to preserve Japanese agriculture and the environment. One of the reasons for this is that over 60% of Japanese farmers are 65 years old or more. The philosophy of the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative Union is that if consumers want to have a sustainable society and safe foods, consumers should have responsibilities for production processes along with producers. As a result of these practices, the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative Union is not only a consumers’ co-operative but also a producers’ co-operative.
New social initiatives
Over the years, the members have launched workers’ collectives. There are now over 700 collectives, with nearly 20,000 members. Since there is no law in Japan for workers’ co-operatives, the members had to use the non-profit organisation (NPO) status. However, they function as if they were a coop (working ownership). The range of activities is very broad: preparing meals for elderly people, homecare, kindergartens, handicrafts, recycling, etc.
Having understood that merely making demands to local authorities was not enough, some members decided to get directly involved in politics by presenting candidates for local assemblies in the Tokyo Metropolitan region. The name they chose «Seikatsusha Network», means People who live in the sense of «inhabitants». Today, there are over 140 elected members in local assemblies, all women, who work to push these concerns.
At the local level: a Community Cooperative Council
The Seikatsu Club considers that to make a global change to society, a «cooperative» society, a society that works together has to be put in place. The plan is to create local Community Cooperative Councils, especially in Tokyo, composed of all organisations in a given territory: cooperatives, local producers, citizens’ movements, unions, workers collectives, associations, educational institutions, etc. The objective is that the community takes charge of itself. The principles are quite similar to sustainable local development or community economic development as known in Canada.
At the global level: a transformative vision of the public arena
Having realized that economic and social issues are linked, that all has become «glocal»; that the global and the local are so interlinked that we must act at all levels, from the local to the global. To have an impact on issues such as GMOs, the WTO rules, poverty and war, we are forced to imagine a «global community» similar to how we conceive local or national communities. Their vision is affirmed in the following manner (except from a PowerPoint presentation):
We believe it is now the time for co-operatives to play a big role, both in their various communities and as the world’s largest NPO, in building the new glocal public sphere.
The Siekatsu Club has been active for over 20 years in the field of influencing global issues. Since 1983, close links have been developed with similar organisations in Korea and Taiwan. The organisation participated in the 1992 World Summit in Rio and in a UN conference on disarmament.
The organisation is giving priority to develop exchanges and solidarity actions with similar organisations.
For information: www.seikatsuclub.coop/english/index.html
English translation: Évéline Poirier
The article is available on the blog: International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development.