Sunday, January 10, 2010
The Seiketsu Club
Keywords: economy-inflation, consumption, production, women- equity, management-planning, community, agriculture, internal trade, harvesting Initiative: The Seikatsu Club Community: Founded in 1968 by 200 women in Tokyo, the initiative has now spread throughout Japan and has 400,000 members.Problems/Opportunities Prompting the Initiative: inflation, consumerism, disassociation between consumption and production, environmentally harmful production and consumption patterns.Objectives/Strategies: The club attempts to bring consumers and producers closer together in order to promote the distribution of high quality environmentally friendly products at a better price than the market can offer, and to make explicit the individual’s role in the cycle of production, consumption and disposal. The movement is a reaction to the industrial society and attempts to reform structures of consumption. A sustainable communal society is proposed in the place of the industrial consumer society. The goal is to allow people to act as independently as possible to create a new civil society based on the slogan “autonomy in life”. The organization believes that the best avenue to changing society is outside of institutions, by focussing on individuals.Background: The organization began as a way to save money and has transformed into an organization emphasizing the need to address social concerns (empowerment of women, improvement of workers conditions, and improvement of the environment.)Products Distributed by the Club: The Seikatsu purchase primary products ( rice, milk, chicken, eggs, fish and vegetables) which make up 60% of the products distributed through the co-op. Seasonings, processed food and other merchandise are also available. Products are delivered directly to members.Harmful products are not handled by the organization (ie. synthetic detergents, artificial seasonings.The coop cooperates with local farmers and only purchases products grown with organic fertilizers and as few chemicals as possible. Members agree to purchase a set amount of produce and to overlook imperfections resulting from organic production.Products that have not been available at standards acceptable to the coop have been produced by the Seikatsu. (This has led to the operation of two dairy farms to produce organic milk.) Products are restricted to a single brand for each product (ie one brand of soy sauce). As a result, there are only 400 products available through the co-op yet they meet a diverse number of food needs.Produce is purchased directly from producers. This eliminates the elevation in price brought when dealing with food distributors. In addition, the direct connection has served to make the relation between consumers and producers explicit.Funding: Members make an initial investment of 1000 yen in the coop. Monthly contributions of 1000 yen are also made. The average investment each person has in the coop is 47,000 yen, which is returned when a person leaves the organization. It is the 9th largest coop in Japan (153,000 members) but is fourth in terms of investment capital (7.5 billion yen).Organization: The club plans its purchases through the requirement that members order one week in advance of expected delivery date. Purchasing is made through the basic organizational unit in the coop (the basic unit is a “han” which consists of 6-13 families) The han is the unit that helps to form policy decisions within the co-op as a whole. Co-op members distribute products on different schedules (milk twice a week, eggs, pork, processed food and seasonings once a week and other products once a month.)Each Han is headed by a leader elected by group members for a one year term. The leader from the han attends branch meetings and reflects views of individual member of the han, and is responsible for voting to direct policy at the branch level. There are approximately 153,000 members divided into 25,000 hans, who meet in about 100 branches in ten prefectures in Japan. Each branch develops its own policy and is represented by 10-20 committee members. Annually, a General assembly where group members’ views are heard through the group leaders is held. The board of directors, 10-20 members, is elected during this assembly by the General Assembly (80% are women). The Board of Directors is the policy making and management body for the co-op. As a whole. In such an organization it is believed that all members have an opportunity to have their views heard and see them reflected in policy.Staffing: There is a full time staff of 700.Benefits of the initiative:1. The cycle of production, consumption and disposal, and the individual’s relations within this cycle is made explicit. The initiative serves to educate people about the relation they have to production.2. The program brings together like-minded producers and consumers to create a strong network.3. The size of the organization has effectively challenged some production methods and caused certain changes in products.4. The organization is democratic and allows all to participate directly in the management and policy directions of the coop.5. Women are empowered and receive valuable training through the various labour activities done in the coop.New Directions: The organization has begun to launch political campaigns. (It has successfully boycotted certain soaps and has compelled some local governments to ban the use of synthetic detergents). They have begun to campaign for municipal office with the slogan “political reform from the kitchen”. Thirty-three members of the coop have been elected to municipal government The club also sells insurance to members to safeguard them in case of accident or illness.For more information:“Beyond the consumer society – Japan’s Seikatsu Club,” The Unesco Courier, March 1992, pp. 32-33.Shigeki Maruyama, “Seikatsu: Japanese Housewives organize,” Green Business: Hope or Hoax? Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers, 1991, pp. 80-87.