Japan: Seikatsu Club Consumers' Cooperative Union (1995)

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          Seikatsu Club Consumers' Cooperative Union
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Originally started in an effort to save money on milk purchases,
the cooperative has become a formidable commercial enterprise
serving over 200,000 households. It promotes a comprehensive
economic strategy to create self-managed lifestyles. Seikatsu
Clubs are dedicated to the environment, empowerment of women and
improvement of workers conditions. They refuse to handle products
detrimental to the environment or human health and oppose
wasteful lifestyles. Seikatsu shows that consumers can work for
a society that is harmonious with nature by "taking action from
the home".  

"We refuse to handle products if they are detrimental to the
health of our members or the health of the environment." -
Shigeki Maruyama, member.  The Seikatsu Consumers' Club Co-op
(SC), an organisation of ordinary housewives, is not an ordinary
consumers' cooperative. SC has become a formidable commercial
enterprise serving over 230,000 households since it's formation
in 1965. It began when a single Tokyo housewife organised 200
women to buy 300 bottles of milk to reduce the price. The Co-op,
which has developed since then, places emphasis on direct
producer/consumer links to moderate and humanise the market. It
operates on two basic principles: one is democratic autonomous
management encouraging all members to participate, and the other
is to maintain a cooperative close relation between SC members
and producers.  With an advance ordering and joint buying system,
SC enables its members to plan their consuming life and provides
sustainability to producers. The SC is dedicated to the
environment, empowerment of women and improvement of workers'
conditions. Using environmental ethics that make economic sense
the Seikatsu Club provides low-cost household goods without
sacrificing health or the environment. They refuse to handle
products detrimental to the environment or human health and they
oppose wasteful lifestyles. They procure quality produce by
signing a contract with local farmers to ensure the produce is
safe to eat. The club buys the produce in exchange for a
guarantee that only organic fertilisers and the fewest possible
chemicals will be used. When they cannot find products of
adequate quantity, or products that meet its ecological or social
standards, they will consider producing it themselves as they
have done with milk and natural soaps.  With the growth in female
participation in Japan's labour force, the SC set up women
workers' collectives to undertake both distribution and other
service enterprises including recycling, health, education, food
preparation and child care. Presently there are more than 200
organizations and 8,000 workers. The Seikatsu Club encourages
political action and has managed to get over 100 members elected
into various municipal offices, who through their principles and
activities, "change daily life and change the society." The SC
has also established a not-for-profit insurance company for its
members.  The club is organised in hans (a local unit averaging
about eight people). Each han elects a representative to its
Branch (consisting of between 50 and 100 hans), which in turn
develops it's own agenda and sends representatives to the General
Assembly to set policy and elect the SC's Board of Directors. 95%
of SC's members are women.  The fundamental principles of the SC
are:     

*    Create a new life-style in order to protect environment and
     health. Stop passive and resource-wasteful lifestyles based
     on commercialism.    

*    Abolish differentials and discrimination. Realising that
     "prosperity" based on the sacrifice of other people both in
     and outside of the country should not be pardoned, SC
     promotes and encourages fair trade.    

*    Establish autonomy of people. Stop following state control
     or an induction of commercial and industrial enterprises,
     but make every effort to create a community of autonomy and
     cooperation through our basic daily activities of
     collective purchase.    

*    Enable women, who are the majority of members, to be
     independent. Today's highly industrialised society pushed
     women and local communities into subordinate and
     decentralised positions. We are not only criticising and
     confronting the situation, but are proposing to  create a
     new lifestyle and alternative work.  

The Seikatsu Club was recognised by the Right Livelihood Awards
in 1989. "We stand by the belief that housewives can begin to
create a  society that is harmonious with nature by 'taking
action from the home'" - Seikatsu Club, 1988.  

Contact Information:    Shigeki Maruyama
                        Seikatsu Club Consumers' Cooperative
                        Union 
                        3-2-28 Mikasaka Setagaya-Ku 
                        Tokyo, Japan 
                        Tel: 81 3 3706 0036 
                        Fax: 81 3 3427 9401 

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