Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick
Producing different shoes requires the use of an alternative process. VEJA shoes are made from natural wild rubber from the Amazonian forest trees. Collaborating directly with 60 families of Seringueiros, rubber tappers from the state of Acre in the northern region of Brazil, the French company’s shoes are made after natural latex is extracted in the form of rubber directly from the trees, processed, purified and stretched into sheets that are, afterwards, cut and molded into high quality rubber soles. This process utilizes the technology developed by Professor Floriano Pastore of the University of Brasilia and backed by VEJA, called FDL (Folha Desfumada Liquida) or the Liquid Smoked Sheet, which transforms latex into rubber sheets without any industrial intermediary processing.
This innovative technology provides the Seringueiros with a higher income through the sale of semi-finished products and insures the survival of the Amazonian rainforest, thus, helping safeguard autochthonous traditions and bringing forward scalable environmental protection.
Deforestation is a considerable problem in Brazil, especially when the economic value is higher in fields and cleared ground than in trees. VEJA was started as a transparent and sustainable company because of their awareness of the issues that occur with globalization and their desire to make a difference in the footwear industry.
VEJA, and the founders’ dedication to sustainability, helped improve the situation in Acre, Brazil. The inspiration for the Rubber Project stems from the fact that deforestation, not only destroys the environment but also the lack of value in rubber trees destroys the livelihood of rubber tappers.
VEJA chose to work with local families of rubber tappers with the FDL innovative process to give value back to rubber trees. The inspiration of the founders of VEJA is motivated by transparency, sustainability and social consciousness, rather than by marketing opportunities this kind of work brings. Indeed, instead of advertising, the company lets the shoes do the talking.
The inspiration and philosophy of the business as well as the company’s goals lead VEJA to the fulfillment of some major UN Global Goals in its day-to-day activity, including:
VEJA has a significant overall impact on the environment as a whole. The company has contributed significantly to the prevention of the deforestation in the Amazonian rainforest as the latex that VEJA extracts from the trees has provided a method of sustaining the resources of the Amazonian forest. Deforestation is a detrimental problem in the maintaining of the environment and therefore VEJA’s processes have a significantly positive impact on this issue.
Additionally, the organization has an exceptional impact on the quality of life of rubber tappers and provides high potential for poverty alleviation. While providing incentives to maintain forests, VEJA is dedicated to paying fair prices for the latex which they use in production. The company paid their shoe manufacturers in Rio de Janeiro 20% higher than minimum wage, increasing their incomes and standards of living.
Overall, VEJA’s vegan business has a significant beneficial impact on both the environment and on the quality of life of rubber tappers and others in their supply chain.
While the use of wild rubber is associated with higher production costs, VEJA’s initiatives in the Amazon region has brought about improved processing and product quality, notably through the strengthening of its business relationship with the local communities as well as efficient storage and shipping. Besides, the company’s policy of zero advertising allows the allocation of additional resources in social and environmental improvements and insures the competitiveness of the VEJA shoes. Finally, the use of an innovative and natural process presents an ethical advantage that leads towards a greener path in which consumers are willing to invest.
The company aims to achieve high social and environmental standards from the Amazon all the way to its shop floors in Europe. VEJA actively campaigns against deforestation along with supporting workers’ rights and creating employment for poor families. The Amazon is the only place throughout the world that rubber trees remain and continue to grow. VEJA works with 60 different families who harvest rubber from the heart of the Amazon while in return; VEJA purchases this rubber at a premium. This provides the families with an incentive to eliminate the temptation to supplement their incomes through land clearing, cattle breeding and wood extractions, which would lead to the soil being unprotected by the cover of vegetation and vulnerable to accelerated erosion. This also helps to protect the Amazon and preserve local biodiversity. Therefore, the company’s work preserves the forest by assigning a real value to the trees remaining up rather than being cut down. Besides, VEJA purchases natural rubber, which constitutes 30 to 40% of the trainers, for 2.33 EUR/kg while the normal price for natural rubber varies between 1.60-1.90 per kg. Synthetic rubber prices reached between 1-1.2 euros per kg.
Aside from its protection of the environment, VEJA also ensures that the company is compliant with ILO Labour Standards. However, the company believes there are many other social criteria that need to be met beyond ILO requirements such as the freedom to gather and stand for employees’ rights. Indeed, VEJA allows all employees to join a union, quality and proximity to their dwellings, standard of living and purchasing power parity along with social benefits and right to free speech. All employees who work in the Amazonian forest have a good standard of housing with water and electricity. The company pays employees 20-30% higher than the minimum wage in Brazil, along with providing them with four weeks of paid holidays as well as bank holiday weekends. Unlike other businesses, VEJA ensures that employees’ do not work too many hours of overtime, with the average employee working a maximum of two hours extra a day, which would only occur during high season.
Guillaume Dovale, Communication Manager
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Business Website: https://project.veja-store.com/
Year Founded: 2004
Number of Employees: 11-50