Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

Misako Shinozaki, Chairperson of Seikatsu Club Consumers' Cooperative Kanagawa, Japan

“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with co-operators from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). On this occasion, the ILO interviewed Misako Shinozaki, Chairperson of Seikatsu Club Consumers' Cooperative Kanagawa in Japan.

Article | 13 May 2021

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

 

Misako Shinozaki
I Joined Seikatsu Club Kanagawa in 1987 to ensure that my children eat safe and secure food without many food additives. Replacing chemical detergents with pure soap, to protect our children with asthma or atopy was also a big part of my motivation. I formed a “Han”, a group of members, with two neighbors. In 2004, I became the director of Yokohama Minami Seikatsu Club. Through study sessions and meetings with farmers and manufacturers, I learned how we can access safe and secure products by cooperating with producers and solving social issues by consuming the right products. I realized the importance of cooperating with people, and communicating with other members to generate understanding of issues. Our activities gave me a sense of enjoyment, accomplishment and fulfillment. In June 2020, I became the Chairperson of Seikatsu Club Consumers' Cooperative Kanagawa. In this role, I am working towards promoting the creation of a society that values ​​life and nature, connection between people, and community development where citizens think and act in a participatory way.

 

What are Seikatsu Clubs about? When and how were they born? Who are their members? What are their objectives?

Seikatsu Club is a consumer cooperative started in Tokyo in 1965 at the initiative of women who wanted to improve their lives, local communities and larger society. Seikatsu Club Kanagawa was established in May 1971 in Midori-ku, Yokohama with 1008 members. It was established by local residents with the aim of "creating a community where people can live humanly" and building a lifestyle that protects democratic and peaceful lives.

Seikatsu Club
The important basic philosophy that Seikatsu Club has cultivated over the past 50 years is ​​"self-governance and self-management." This serves as a foundation of ​​our activities, and I believe these principles will also continue to be relevant for the future of our societies. Seikatsu Club is based on self-governance and self-management, "thinking and acting for ourselves", to solve social problems and to serve as an autonomous, independent entity that serves the needs of the community.

As of March 2021, Kanagawa prefecture is had 82,840 members, and accounted for 10.9 billion yen investment in capital and business turnover of 25,570 million yen. As part of this mutual aid businesses generated 250 million yen, and welfare businesses 540 million yen. Our main business model is the collective purchase of food and daily products, delivering them to member’s homes and selling them in 22 stores called "Depot".

 

What do you think is the role Seikatsu Clubs play in social and economic wellbeing in their communities?

Seikatsu Club Kanagawa promotes activities rooted in the community. We created five local community cooperatives (Yokohama Kita, Yokohama Minami, Kawasaki, Shonan, and Sagami) in 2003 to democratically reflect decision-making by members and promote decentralization. Each of the cooperatives has a board of directors as a corporation and promotes collective purchasing as business model. We expand assets by promoting the formation of numerous associations on mutual aid, food, environment/energy, and welfare. Through the formation of workers’ collectives (W.Co) in each local cooperative we ensure local citizens’ participation. We advocate for energy autonomy by preserving the local natural environment and introducing renewable energy, recycling and elimination of harmful chemicals. We also promote organic farming and local agricultural production and participation, through Seikatsu Club local farms.

What is W.Co?

Seikatsu Club Kanagawa created W.Co for the first time in Japan in 1982. In addition to hiring full-time staff to carry out the work in the Seikatsu Club, W.Co was established as a way for members to participate in the work of the club. Since 1992, the club has been outsourcing the work of the Seikatsu Club to W.Co in various ways. Today, our activities include depot flooring, delivery of joint purchases, organizational activities, mutual aid administration and promotion, welfare services and domestic work services. In 1996, the W.Co. established the policy of "Seikatsu Club made by members, W.Co. and staff". It has been working to improve the quality of life of the members and staff of the W.Co. W. Co’s involvement has been expanded in the Seikatsu Club, such as participation in the management meetings and taking senior management positions. We are working day and night to create a multi-stakeholder co-operative where all interested parties work together to build the Seikatsu Club.

Seikatsu Club
We promote community-based welfare and the development of welfare business. We run day care centers at six locations in the prefecture for the daily well-being of elderly. We established the “IkiIki” Welfare Association that offers various services for the elderly including two special elderly nursing homes. We also run “Child-rearing Clubs” to support exchange among parents, and operation of licensed nursery schools.


In 1987 we established the “welfare club co-op” as an independent corporation to support community living and address the care needs of the aging society that currently has 17,000 members.


As a cooperative we also established a foodbank to address regional disparity and poverty. The “Kanagawa Lively Citizens Fund” subsidizes projects for community level activities. We have four prefectural training offices for employment, set up as a joint venture of W.Co and Seikatsu Club. We also helped establish small businesses run by women and provided loans to expand their activities in Kanagawa prefecture through the Women Citizens Community Bank which serves members from a wide range of cooperative organizations, such as consumers and workers cooperatives. The Bank has 392 individual members, 81 group members and generated funding of 113.88 million yen and cumulative loan amount of 560.46million yen.

In the current context of the changing world of work, and unfolding risks like the global pandemic, what are specific activities Seikatsu Clubs have undertaken?

The COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis showed us that humankind cannot exist depending solely on the conventional workings of the market economy, and a fundamental social transformation is needed. It is necessary to transform the Japanese society, which has been dependent on the global economy. We envision a society that promotes self-governance and in Kanagawa, we will promote the localization of the SDGs, as a business in the areas of each of the five regional co-ops mentioned above. A key measure is to create regional businesses in areas such as food, energy, care, work and education in each region based on solidarity and connect with each person based on cooperative identities.

Most of the consumer products of Seikatsu Club are made in an equal and mutually beneficial relationship with domestic producers, and about 75 per cent of processed foods, including raw materials, are domestically produced. In Japan, which imports about 70 per cent of food from abroad, it is important to increase the use of Seikatsu Club consumer products in order to promote locally produced products. We should encourage people to cook at home rather than purchase prepared food from outside, as the latter uses extra energy and packaging resources for production and transportation.

What are the future plans of Seikatsu Clubs as part of the wider social and solidarity economy landscape in Japan?

There are 150 Workers Collectives (W.Cos) in Kanagawa prefecture with a total membership of 4,607. We would like to create different types of W.Co to improve the quality of life in local communities. In addition, in the midst of the declining birthrate and aging population, poverty, and more recently, the COVID-19 crisis, we plan to establish diverse associations and expand networks in order to build relationships between people in the region and create a society where people can coexists in harmony with nature.

 In 2021 we plan to establish an intermediate support organization to expand independent and cooperative civil society and cooperative associations in Kanagawa Prefecture. The main purpose of this organization will be to:

  •  Foster mutual support community workers who are partners of "participatory welfare" who promote activities together in the community
  • Support the formation of associations with open membership, establish their own rules, and share goals and solve problems together.
  • Create a regional mechanism for sustainable cooperation (care exchange).
  • (4) Create a place where you can feel connected, such as children’s cafeterias, learning/tutorial support, food banks, etc.
  •  A “monitoring network” that fills the support gap in response to local citizens’ needs.