Just like the protection of the environment and the conservation of resources, corporate social responsibility cannot be dissociated from the requirements we have set ourselves. Adding the slogan “fair a kooperativ mat de Bio-Baueren” to the NATURATA logo underlines what is important for all the companies that directly support BIOG: we are focusing on eco-social alternatives in the contexts of production and conventional commercial structures.
A responsible attitude, even within our social environment, is the logical consequence of our design for the alternative economy.
Sustainability, public interest and associative value creation go hand in hand
In 2014, the first audit of the OIKOPOLIS Group was conducted by an external auditor according to the rules of economy for the common good. In 2021,we created our third balance sheet and finalised the certification process with the completed audit. With 669 points, the company reached an excellent score – only a handful of other companies have been able to achieve an exemplary result.
This high score is not a coincidence, since the values and objectives of the economy for the common good can be found in the OIKOPOLIS group’s ideal of an associative economy, which is expressed in a chain of value creation founded on ecology and solidarity. All these aspects are part of the “corporate social responsibility” detailed in the OIKOPOLIS 2018 sustainability report. This report includes chapters on “Associative economy”, “Conservation of resources/Ecology” and “Social cohesion”. The first two points have been brought together online under “fair & associative” and “Sustainability”.
The socially effective aspects of our actions, in the strictest sense, mainly include our associative corporate culture, our design for participative management and co-management, intensive internal communication, strong civic engagement and a large offering of civic education, which we make available to the public free of charge. Humanitarian partnerships are just as important to us. By conviction, we are therefore going beyond short-term donations: instead of a simple “Sunday engagement” we are committed to long-term collaboration to obtain sustainable results.
Associative and collaborative corporate culture
Associative and collaborative corporate culture
For the purposes of our ideal of the associative economy, our value chain is also a valorisation chain. Demanding “humane” working conditions at each link in this chain therefore goes without saying. Like OIKOPOLIS’s shareholders, many are its employees, who are not seeking financial advantage first and foremost, but consider the joint project “Stärkung der biologischen Landwirtschaft” (strengthening organic farming) to be a boon for everyone. Even though salaries are higher in some sectors, the OIKOPOLIS companies remunerate their staff fairly. Within the OIKOPOLIS group, the gross wage ratio is only 1:4, all companies taken together, meaning that the highest salary is only four times higher than the lowest, which corresponds, incidentally, to the legal minimum salary. In this context, an average wage is also considered fair.
Working in the OIKOPOLIS group also guarantees various “monetary benefits” as well as activities that have meaning. A wide range of professional and personal training options is offered, along with preferential access to organic food and other high quality natural products. All staff benefit from a 20% discount on the full NATURATA range and on the items for sale in the specialist NATURATA beauty & culture store. This reduction also applies to the cosmetic and relaxation treatments provided there, as well as to the NATURATA Bio-Restaurants and Bio-Bistros.
During meetings and meals, the company provides its staff with a large choice of certified organic hot and cold drinks, including vegan options, as well as fruit and vegetables, all free of charge. In the wholesale and retail trade, its staff can benefit from other internal services. Dairy produce and other fresh produce is offered free of charge to staff just before it reaches its use-by date. The same goes for fruit and vegetables showing minor defects and for discontinued dry goods. Several times a week, the BIOGROS female staff can also take home a crate of fresh produce for their families, for one symbolic euro.
These are all services that contribute to employee satisfaction, as witnessed by the fact that around 10% of all the OIKOPOLIS shares are held by its staff, and also the fact that the group has a high recommendation rate. In fact, the considerable number of unsolicited applications that the OIKOPOLIS companies have received over the years is mainly due to the advocacy of their staff.
Participative management and co-management
Participative management and co-management
Many staff hold shares in OIKOPOLIS companies. They are therefore co-owners, too, and even co-entrepreneurs in this respect. This form of ownership is embedded in a structure that corresponds to our ideal of associative economy. This includes horizontal hierarchies that allow everyone to rapidly reach decision-making level. As a rule, decisions are taken by consensus, after consultation with the competent bodies for the sector of activity concerned. However, even in the case of decisions of principle and framework decisions, the individuals concerned can always take part in the decision-making processes. These processes are designed to be integrated and transparent, and we practise participative management. Therefore decisions are not taken by vote; instead, the responsibilities assumed by the base and self-organisation prevail over rules coming “from above”. As a rule, anyone who will have to suffer possible consequences also has the last word in the decision-making process.
As wide a circle of staff as possible is involved in certain flagship projects with a time limit, like the elaboration of a mission statement or a reflection on the topic of public interest, but each individual can also exercise creativity in respect of practical decisions to be taken daily, like the colour of the paint in the communal stairwells, for example.
Naturally, certain bodies are active all the time. In addition to the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board of the parent company, plus the AGM for all the shareholders, these mainly include the Coordinating Board of the OIKOPOLIS companies, the Works Councils and the working groups specific to each company, which also meet regularly. At NATURATA, for example, there are the Branch Managers and Products groups, as well as the weekly briefing at Head Office.
We also rely on inclusive processes for developing individual specialised projects. The series of workshops on the introduction of a new indexing system or of other digital tools, at which all interested parties and future users can give their opinions, is an example of this.
Titled Pinnwand (pin board), the monthly newsletter published in two languages (German and French) informs all the OIKOPOLIS employees of staff movements, structural changes and meetings of the various working groups, as well as events past and future. The name of this newsletter is not a coincidence. In fact, in those workplaces where there is no Internet connection, monthly messages are printed and pinned on a board for everyone to read.
Further information is published on the home pages of the websites oikopolis.lu, biog.lu, biogros.lu and naturata.lu as well as in the OIKOPOLIS and NATURATA Facebook groups. The focus groups mentioned in the section on “Participative management and co-management”, like the Branch Managers and Products groups, are also important forums for internal communication. In contrast to these internal communication tools and the online news, the printing sector can only deal with the major lines and key events. It is the magazine dedicated to customers and staff of the group, OIKOPOLIS News, published twice a year and available on the magazine racks in all NATURATA branches, that establishes the priorities.
In addition to centralised communication, decentralised exchange also plays a role in the OIKOPOLIS structure that cannot be underestimated. Working groups, coordinating committees and consultative bodies are firmly established, not only within each company, but also between all the companies. To find out more about this subject, see the section above on “Participative management and co-management”.
Civic engagement and civic education
Civic engagement and civic education
Since the foundation of Bio-Bauere-Genossenschaft Lëtzebuerg (BIOG), the pioneers of this cooperative have also been active on other levels, in the spirit of regional organic farming. As leading experts, they seize every opportunity to promote to politicians, at national level and beyond, organic farming, organic stock farming, biodynamic farms, and the alternative or associative economy in general. Since 1991, the concrete experiences of the BIOG founders have been incorporated into the national development of the European Organic Production Regulation.
The movement in favour of the economy for the common good has also been encouraged by OIKOPOLIS. In fact, our group is among the pioneering companies that took part in the development of the first matrix for the common good. In addition, a certain number of our employees have actively helped to introduce Luxembourg to the principles of the economy for the common good as applied to the regional energy sector.
The reverse is true of the outcome of our discussions on the current state of the Luxembourg market, during which representatives from the entire value chain meet to discuss their working conditions and their respective needs. The positive experiences from this associative collaboration encouraged us to create the quality label fair&associative. Initially launched in Luxembourg it has since been introduced internationally. Since 2018 it has been attracting more and more interest all over the world.
Many staff of OIKOPOLIS companies are also active in the protection of the environment, being part of anthroposophic circles or having a commitment to unconditional basic income. Although our group has no volunteer work strategy, we salute this civic engagement because it is an integral part of our corporate identity.
That is why, with the OIKOPOLIS am Dialog initiative, we have launched a whole series of events that are open to everybody. These include free conferences and seminars, at which renowned conference speakers will deal with various aspects of organic and biodynamic farming, the alternative economy, or other key themes of the future.
As a stakeholder in Luxembourg civic society motivated by its values, the OIKOPOLIS group is also in contact with numerous interested parties locally and at European level. In addition to our institutional partners like the approved associations Bio-Lëtzebuerg and IBLA (Institut fir Biologesch Landwirtschaft an Agrarkultur Lëtzebuerg a.s.b.l.) or the Lycée technique agricole de Luxembourg, we should mention the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland, Austria and Germany and, again in Switzerland, the Agriculture Department at the Goetheanum and Demeter International. Depending on the projects, we also cooperate with many other NGOs and initiatives whose objectives are shared with our own, like SOS Faim or Zukunft Säen (Sowing the Future). To find out more on this subject, see the OIKOPOLIS 2018 sustainability report (downloadable in the section on Sustainability).
The civic engagement of the OIKOPOLIS group also involves a collaboration with numerous stakeholders who organise one-off or annual events with a strong media impact – whether it be against wastage, about conscious nutrition or, in general, in the spirit of sustainable development. It is mainly NATURATA that sponsors these events. And it is through food donations in particular that we support numerous events at local level all year round – from vegan breakfasts to town centre running races.
In general, we believe that corporate social responsibility cannot be translated into one-off actions, but into daily activities. This is why we have long participated in humanitarian cooperation projects – all year round and, more than that, over a number of years. As part of these projects we support selected organisations and, with our customers’ help, provide them with considerable sums so that they can realise tangible projects. The donation campaigns always start before Christmas and are organised in two stages: during the festive season, NATURATA customers can donate their purchases of NATURATA brand products to the charity concerned while, for the rest of the year, we stick to collecting small change. The total amount – including the equivalent value of the NATURATA brand products in euros – is doubled, generously rounded up and sent to the chosen campaign partner. Our latest partners are the NGOs Médecins sans Frontières, Friendship Luxembourg and SOS Faim.