The Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union (JCCU) was established in 1951 as a national organization of consumer co-operatives (co-ops) in Japan. Its relationship with its member co-ops does not use the traditional HQ/branch structure but rather one of personnel exchange, joint product development/logistic functions.
The JCCU mainly develops and supplies private label “CO·OP Brand Products,” supports member co-op businesses/activities, and formulates national policies for co-op businesses/activities.
Satoshi Matsumoto is in charge of research and drafting concerning the procurement of seafood at Sustainable Procurement / Merchandising Division of the JCCU. Let’s hear more from Mr. Matsumoto about the “2030 Goals for CO·OP Brand Products” and the “Basic Policy on Responsible Procurement,” along with the background and significance of these initiatives.
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— What was the background behind the decision to release the “2030 Goals for CO·OP Brand Products” and the CO·OP Brand Products “Basic Policy on Responsible Procurement”?
Starting with AEON, which announced its Aeon Sustainable Procurement Policy and Procurement Goals for 2020 in 2017, major companies in Japan have begun to disclose their procurement policies and targets. In 2016, the JCCU formulated the “Basic Policy on Responsible Procurement” guideline for CO·OP Brand Products and made it available to its suppliers. The JCCU compiled a document on procurement approach per sector (such as seafood and lumber) and shared it with member co-ops but did not publish it on our website.
Many are often confused about the difference between member co-ops and the JCCU. Member co-ops operate home delivery services and stores independently, while the JCCU is responsible for developing and supplying private label CO·OP Brand Products to member co-ops.
In formulating the “Consumer Co-op 2030 Environmental Sustainability Policy” as a policy to be promoted by all consumer co-ops nationwide to achieve a sustainable society by 2030, we examined the idea of disclosing our procurement policy and presenting our goals for CO·OP Brand Products (which the JCCU has direct responsibility for as a seller) and discussed it with our member-co-ops.
To further promote the responsible procurement of CO·OP Brand Products that respect the environment and human rights throughout the supply chain, we reorganized various policies and published them as the “2030 Goals for CO·OP Brand Products” and the CO·OP Brand Products “Basic Policy on Responsible Procurement” in May 2021, together with the announcement of the Consumer Co-op 2030 Environmental Sustainability Policy.
— Who was involved in developing the measures, procurement policies, and goals?
We discussed the Consumer Co-op’s 2030 Environmental and Sustainability Policy with the Environmental and Sustainability Policy Review Committee (a specialized committee of the JCCU), finalizing it after discussion and approval by the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is composed of executives from major co-ops and federations, union member representatives, and experts from all over Japan.
We drafted the “2030 Goals for CO·OP Brand Products” and the CO·OP Brand Products “Basic Policy on Responsible Procurement” after repeated discussions within the JCCU, with personnel from across divisions meeting with and exchanging opinions with NGOs and experts. We then discussed and revised the drafts with the member cooperatives and finally released them to the public.
— How are you promoting awareness of the Basic Policy on Responsible Procurement?
Our basic approach to promoting responsible procurement is to promote initiatives based on cooperative/collaborative relationships with stakeholders. Basically, we are striving to build responsible procurement through both supplier and co-op efforts based on equal partnerships with our suppliers. First, we plan to have our suppliers review the Basic Policy for Responsible Procurement. They will then answer a questionnaire regarding the status of their initiatives. The JCCU will then analyze the responses.
We believe that disclosing the procurement policy will make it easier for us to request the cooperation of our suppliers and collaborate in expanding the use of eco-labeled products. We plan to disseminate the Basic Procurement Policy in conjunction with the survey.
We intend to deepen the union members’ understanding of this initiative through specific products such as the CO·OP Sustainable product series.
An example of our member co-op’s progressive initiatives would be the Co-op Deli Federation frequently featuring “Blue MSC” labeled products on the cover of its home delivery catalog, conveying the significance and deliciousness of labeled products.
In the JCCU’s October 2020 survey for union members, 22% had purchased products with the MSC-label and 10% had seen but never purchased such products. There were differences depending on the type of co-op used by the union members. It was clear that use and recognition were higher in co-ops that actively sell products with labels and communicate with their members.
— The goal set in the fishery category of the 2030 Goals for CO·OP Brand Products is to increase the supply value of products under GSSI-accredited certification schemes to over 50% of the total, while emphasizing the expansion of MSC- and ASC-certified products. What challenges do you face in achieving your goals?
Although the scope previously covered only CO·OP Brand Products in the fishery sector, this basic procurement policy changed the scope’s definition to “specification-designated products and fresh marine products that use marine products as the main raw material. That means it includes surimi products in the daily foods sector, fried seafood in the frozen sector, canned seafood and dried seafood in the processed food sector, delicacies in the confectionery sector, and cat food in the household goods sector.
Many products in the fishery sector have clear raw material sources. However, it is not so easy for the other categories because the origin of the raw materials is not fixed, and tracing them is difficult because there are several intermediate processors involved. Some industries are also not interested in certification schemes.
The JCCU also joined NAPA to regain MSC certification for the Atlantic mackerel, which is in large supply. We intend to work with companies and organizations in Europe and elsewhere to encourage coastal countries to determine catch quotas in accordance with scientific recommendations.
The co-ops are notable for their union members’ powerful support for domestically produced seafood. About half of the CO·OP Brand Products in the JCCU’s fishery sector are made from raw materials procured via domestic fisheries or aquaculture. However, how to increase the amount of sustainable domestic seafood is also a challenge we are tackling.
— Is there strong support for domestic production, regardless of the eco-label?
There is strong support from the union members for domestically produced agricultural, livestock, and seafood. However, as for Japanese seafood, catches of some fish species are decreasing for several reasons. Unless efforts are also made to improve the sustainability of the fishing industry, sustaining the products will become increasingly difficult.
We are currently helping fishers who grow oysters in Hiroshima in obtaining MSC certifications, which made us realize how difficult it actually is to get certified. The “Shrimp Farming Improvement Project in Sulawesi, Indonesia” is also not progressing as originally planned in some areas due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Obtaining the certification is no easy feat, especially since some people involved in the field have to change how they work. We are sincerely grateful to everyone involved for their understanding and cooperation with the policies of the JCCU.
— It is indeed difficult to change the values and methods we have had until now.
Yes, I agree. Still, I believe the world is changing, and we have no choice but to change with it. When I started working, it was commonplace to be able to smoke at your office desk. The Child Care Leave Law was also not yet in effect. It’s almost unbelievable how much things have changed. Smoking rules have become stricter, and companies are now strongly required to take measures for gender equality.
Many things have changed in the past few years. For example, when the Atlantic mackerel fishery became MSC certified in 2016, we proposed putting the Blue MSC label on mackerel products on the market, but few reacted proactively. Now, many of our member co-ops are asking us to carry more sustainable products, including MSC-certified ones. Perhaps the changes in the social environment reflect the synergistic effects of each respective effort.
How can we respond to the various SDGs now required in the world? I believe we should think about what we can do from the standpoint of a co-op union while keeping the big picture in mind as we work on these challenges.
Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union (JCCU)
JCCU consists of 314 co-ops in each area in Japan and co-op unions (as of October, 2021) . It was founded in 1951, and its supply/sales is 43.96 billion JPY. It mainly works for developing private brand items and supply, e-commerce, and supporting members’ businesses and activities. Co・op logo, a white letters of “co・op” in a red oval was created by JCCU.
To know more about Mr. Matsumoto’s passion on sustainable seafood, please read:
Co-op’s Social Role: Creating a Rich and Sustainable Lifestyle in Tandem with its Members