On its website, it says: “We have been creating the materials we need for our daily life through collaboration between members and producers, and have been solving social problems through collective purchase.”
This grassroots model for retail means it works “to build systems that will enhance co-operation and mutual help in order to improve the quality of life for each member.”
Individual orders are placed a month in advance, sent via regional centres to the central co-op union which collates them and places a single order directly with each producer. The goods are delivered to each han which distributes them to individual members. This system ensure food is fresh, eliminates the need for storage and artificial preservation, and means producers can anticipate how much produce will be needed, eliminating overproduction and oversupply in the market.
Further testament to its environmental commitments is its work cutting its carbon emissions and waste by using returnable bottles and containers for food items such as soft drinks, soy sauce, and jam. It also promotes self-sufficiency and sustainability in food local agriculture. It has campaigned against nuclear power, and ensures its own energy use is sustainable by building a wind turbine and co-operatively purchasing electricity.
It also works to promote gender equality – 90% of its membership are women – by diversifying the working roles it offers to women.
Putting its political activism on a more formal level, in 1979, it started running candidates for political office through the Tokyo Seikatsusha Network and now has more 100 members who serve as local councillors.
“We try to keep vocal about the importance of building an alternative society,” said Hitomi Igarashi, board member of Seikatsu Club Insurance Cooperative Union during a fact-finding tour of the USA in 2012. “That’s why we are doing our activities.”
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