July 29th, 2013

Cooperativa Futura: A Voice for the Future

By Paulette Frank, Vice President, Sustainability, Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies

The Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies is proud to support Project Phoenix, an initiative that helps recycling cooperatives in Brazil to improve their operational processes, document their policies and develop a stronger social infrastructure. The end result is that the cooperatives become more attractive business partners—meaning an increased market for their recycled goods and improved living and safety standards for the people who work there.

Project Phoenix is modeled on SA8000, a global social accountability standard for ethical working conditions that was developed by Social Accountability International. The standard is based on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and various international labor organization conventions. It includes nine basic principles, such as documented policies on child labor, discrimination, and health and safety.

With support from the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies, Brazil’s Futura cooperative has recently become the first cooperative in the world to receive SA8000 certification—transforming lives in the process. Read more about this incredible journey, and the impact it has had on workers’ lives, in a blog post from Paulette Frank, Vice President of Sustainability for the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies.

I met Elizabeth for the first time at our facility in São José dos Campos, Brazil last fall. She had come to share her story with several invited guests from other consumer goods companies who were interested to learn about the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies’ (JJFOCC) initiative with the recycling cooperative where she worked, called Futura. Recycling cooperatives are groups of organized waste pickers who help to recover valuable materials from landfills so they may go on to another useful life.

Elizabeth sat at the front of the room, and with the help of a translator, told us how she “grew up” with the cooperative. She said she had recently bought her very own home after living in the slums of Brazil her whole life. She went on to tell us about Iraci, who also works at Futura and who, in her 60s, was “born” for the second time when she could sign her name and get her government identification number. She told us how many of the other workers learned to write their first words in the cooperative’s classroom. It became clear to all of us in the room. The cooperative is more than a place to work and earn a living–it is a place to learn, to grow and to create a better life.

But things weren’t always so hopeful for the employees at Futura. By local standards, it was a typical cooperative with typical working conditions–which often lack things that many of us take for granted like workplace safety protocols and record-keeping practices to track inventory and productivity. The JJFOCC reached out to Futura in 2008 with an idea to partner with the cooperative to raise the quality of its workplace practices and achieve something that had never been done before: certify the first recycling cooperative in the world against the Social Accountability SA8000 standard. J&J was keen to do this because we wanted a source of reliable, high-quality post-consumer recycled content from a socially responsible supplier that we could use for our BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages cartons. Futura accepted the invitation and Project Phoenix was born.

It turned out to be a lot harder than anyone expected but in 2012, Futura earned its SA8000 certificate. We learned a couple of things along the way. First, it takes a village to certify a recycling cooperative for its social and labor practices. We couldn’t do it alone. We needed the help of partners like the local NGOs and social workers, like our packaging supplier and the local municipality. All played a role in supporting Futura through and after the certification process. We also learned that several small steps equal one giant leap. We had to break the certification process into smaller, more practical steps to maintain a sense of progress and motivation for the cooperative.

And finally, we learned that the certificate matters. When you visit the cooperative, the first thing Elizabeth shows you is the certificate on the wall. She touches it and beams with pride. It is a symbol of how far they have come and the potential that lies ahead. That potential translates into reality every time Futura is awarded more business from the municipality because the mayor is confident in the cooperative’s operations, or when a bank approves them for a loan because they are confident in their investment. That is real value that quite literally can be taken to the bank!

Today, Futura is a sustainable business enterprise–one that is providing a valuable service for its customers, its employees, its community and the environment. And much like Our Credo predicts, their business is thriving as a result, with a waiting list of people who want to work there and a brand-new warehouse waiting for its first delivery of material.

We recently documented Futura’s story in a video that I shared publicly for the first time at the Sustainable Brands conference in June this year. The outpouring of emotion and support from the conference attendees was overwhelming. Even as I waited in the airport for my flight home, someone who had been at the conference came up to me and told me how much they were touched by Futura’s story.

Frankly speaking, as I stood on the stage watching the video, I couldn’t help but remember Elizabeth at the front of that room last fall. I realize now that I had been in the presence of a true Phoenix. You see, Elizabeth is the President of Futura, and she gives us all hope that life can rise from the ashes. To view the video and hear in their own words the difference Project Phoenix has made in the lives of the people who work at Futura, click here.

Paulette FrankPaulette Frank currently serves in the role of Vice President, Sustainability for the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies. In her role, she provides thought leadership and strategic direction to advance the organization’s sustainability mission. She also represents the company in external forums and in education and awareness building efforts, providing a voice for the company’s values and commitment to help create a healthy future for people, our communities, and the planet. Paulette has been working in the fields of environmental stewardship, employee health & safety and sustainability for over 22 years. In 1997, she joined the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies where she has served in a number of roles within Environment, Health & Safety, Sustainability and Operations across the enterprise.

Paulette earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Duke University and her Master of Environmental Studies degree from Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She serves as an advisory council member for the Center for Business and Environment at Yale. She is on the Board of Directors for Net Impact and a member of the Leadership Council for the Corporate Eco-Forum.

She resides in the quiet countryside of Tewksbury, NJ with her husband, Scott, and her two young sons, Zach & Luke, who inspire her passion for asking why and challenging the status quo.

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