The Citizens’ Network to Build a Sustainable Society through Responsible Consumption (SSRC) was established in January 2016, right around the same time that the “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) came into effect. The network is comprised of 38 NGOs from all over Japan – from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Each organization works on social issues, ranging from environment, consumer rights, and fair trade, to human trafficking and animal welfare.
SSRC, since 2016, has been working mainly on two projects: “Guricho”, or “Green and Ethical Choices”, and “Ethical Report Card of Companies”.
Guricho (currently available only in Japanese) is a project that lists ethical products on a website so that consumers can consult the list when they shop. Thus far, there are 15 categories of consumer goods: potato chips, chocolate, coffee beans, black tea, green tea, hamburgers, bread, tofu, soy sauce, eggs, shampoo, toilet paper, towels, outerwear, and sneakers. The items are listed with both product names and photos.
Visitors to our website can click and read explanations of the ethical criteria which the products meet. These include environmental criteria, such as products that are organic, produced by agroforestry, are plastic-free, palm oil-free, Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) -approved, Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) -approved, and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) -approved. They also include human rights criteria, like child labor-free, and fair trade – as well as animal rights criteria like stall-free, cage-free, fur-free, and animal test-free. The site is interactive: users can provide information on new products, and also register the names and locations of shops where one can buy a certain product. This project aims to be a Japanese version of “Shopping for a Better World” and the “Ethical Consumer Guide.”
Ethical Report Card of Companies is a unique project where NGOs grade companies in terms of sustainability. We choose two or three industries, and approximately 5 top companies every year. Apparel and food processing industries were rated in 2016. Cosmetics, convenience stores, and parcel delivery services were rated in 2017. Restaurant chains and home appliance industries were evaluated in 2018, and cafe chains and beverage industries were rated in 2019.
We use a 50+ page-long questionnaire, produced and revised each year by network members, comprised of 7 major areas: (1) Sustainable development, (2) Environment, (3) Consumers, (4) Human rights and labor, (5) Social responsibility, (6) Peace and non-violence, and (7) Animal welfare. Each area has 5-7 sub-areas and each sub-area contains 5-10 questions. Network members are grouped into 7 teams; each team deals with the above-mentioned areas.
Initially, the members fill in the questionnaire by themselves, based on public information like CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) /Sustainability reports of the companies, news, and other NGO/administrative reports. After putting the 7 major areas of completed questionnaires together, we send the whole document to each company, and ask for their review, as well as additional information. After we exchange communications with the CSR divisions of corporations who respond, we finally grade the companies (scored from 1 to 10) in each of the seven areas. We do not calculate one “overall grade” because we respect each user’s specific concerns as they view the “report card.” We expect the report card to serve as a reference, as report card users choose companies or brands as consumers, job-seekers, or investors. The past Report Card grades of the companies are as follows:
The questionnaire we use for evaluation is modified each year and there are some questions that are designed for specific industries. Thus, we cannot simply compare companies that are in different industries, and we cannot easily compare companies’ evaluations from different research years.
At the time of announcement of a year’s report card, we generally host an event to announce the grades, and explain each industry’s trends and challenges, background stories, and best practices. In 2020, the announcement event was not held in March due to Covid-19, but the results were announced on the website as usual. We also published a printed hard copy of the project report (60 pages), which sells for 1,000 yen.
This year, 2020, we will review both projects, Guricho and the Ethical Report Card of Companies. We are planning to engage in dialogue with ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) investors, CSR personnel of the companies, and researchers in sustainability-related fields, to refine the projects.
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