Meeting local needs: Fersol in Brazil
Case study of the book Social and environmental responsibility, 2006
Vincent Commenne

Fersol project – Brazil

“Societal responsibility – cultivating our land and our people.” This is the slogan adopted by Brazilian company Fersol (manufacturer of agricultural products such as pesticides, fungicides and herbicides) across all its communications. The slogan underlines the duality of the position adopted by the company in aiming to develop a wide range of societally responsible actions with the purpose of driving forward a genuine transformation of responsibility in society.

Fersol’s conversion to the CSR cause can be dated back to around 1996 and has developed in a proportionate manner thanks to continuous program of in-house and external actions designed to boost good citizenship on the part of the company.

a. Objectives

Having successfully extricated itself from a fragile financial position (from 1993 to 1999) that put its existence into doubt, the company decided to address CSR in a fully transparent way in discussions with staff, clients, suppliers, financers and civil society, setting the following objectives:

– choosing the orientation for investments; – favoring job security; – emphasizing training and specialization; – promoting education and the process of raising awareness of environmental issues.

The achievement of objectives was backed by the far from miserly commitment of 15% of the company’s profits. Below we detail a few of the CSR actions already undertaken by this beacon company.

b. Education program

Fersol is certain that education has to be stressed as a “strategic space within any project for social and economic development, because a just society is comprised and strengthened by the presence of citizens who are both active and critical.” Taking this as a starting point, the company is keen to promote education, convinced that it is the most effective mechanism for building the foundations of citizenship. In 1996 the Fersol school was set up. It originated in the desire of few of the company’s staff to learn, study, grow and develop as citizens. Observing that some staff were insufficiently literate or had failed to complete the minimum required level of schooling, led to the decision to set up the Zero Illiteracy program. This involved expanding the school, hiring teachers to provide remedial adult reading classes, and the adoption of an educational process based on the work of educationalist Paulo Freire.

c. Diversity of human resources

One of the company’s overarching principles is to encourage people and their potential, irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, ideology or state of health. Everybody has the chance to show off their skills and their abilities, thus participating in the construction of a new society.

The HR department therefore favors diversity in its hiring programs, integrating workers from population groups that have traditionally been marginalized in Brazil. As of December 2003, the workforce comprised 61% women, 38% people of African descent, 26% people aged over 45, and 3% disabled people. According to Exame magazine’s 2003 Good Corporate Citizenship Guide, Fersol is one of the top forty employers promoting women’s entry into the workplace.

The company also keeps a close eye on continuous improvements not only to its products but also to its processes. In November 2003 the company gained its certification for ISO 9001: 2000 (quality) and ISO 14001 (environment); Fersol was one of the first Brazilian chemical companies to achieve this certification. The company is currently involved in the process of working towards SA 8000 certification (human rights and employee relations).

d. Political conscience

A political conscience is one of the company’s cornerstones; it willingly describes itself as a company that continually exceeds its objectives thanks to the willingness of its staff to engage with the wider society.

By staging debates during elections it offers its staff a glimpse of a range of competing visions for the future of the country and the world. In partnership with various specialist NGOs it regularly offers training and lecture/debates featuring representatives from political parties, academics and social movements.

e. Food security

Fersol has created, develops and maintains projects that fight hunger; these are an integral part of its policy of societal responsibility. These are initiatives taken for employees, although they also benefit the community and social institutions.

In a similar vein, the company has a program called When 1% is Transformed into 100%, created at the instigation of some of its staff who wanted to take part in the national Zero Hunger program. The program consists of a voluntary 1% salary contribution that is used to buy and distribute food baskets for local families in difficulty or for social organizations in Mainrique and its environs. In return, the beneficiaries are encouraged to participate in domestic waste recycling and literacy schemes. The main difference between this approach and that commonly witnessed in Argentina is that the food baskets are distributed to beneficiaries who participate in debates or lectures on topics such as the environment, education or job creation, during which they are taught how to sort waste and are given a kit to help.

f. Quality of life

The company seeks to improve quality of life for its workers. To this end it employs aids such as display panels offering information, thoughts, suggestions, poems, etc., all intended to educate people about health and taking care of themselves. Why? To improve the quality of life of workers and their families.

g. Human rights

People within the company think that “a just and democratic society can only be built by those whose rights are respected and who respect the rights of other citizens in turn”. Since 1998 Fersol has therefore been involved in the fight for children’s rights, working in collaboration with the Abrinq Foundation.

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