Interview: Benjamín Cervantes (Part 2 of 2)


If I want to achieve different results, I have to start doing something different “

4. Nowadays, consumers have changed and they take more into account some other factors whenever they make a purchase, how important do you think is social responsibility these days?

Day by day, social responsibility has taken more strength towards purchases. Each time, new markets have focused more on topics like Quality in an integral way. In the past, for example, topics like quality and food safety were fundamental. It still is. Nevertheless, it isn’t an added value anymore; it is now something you must accomplish as a standard or a requirement.  Nowadays, which is giving added value to products or to consumer’s is the social responsibility matter. Right now, we have new markets. There’s the millennials, who think about the background of what they are buying, whenever they make a purchase. They think of the origin of the products they consume, of who they are supporting with their purchases and this just goes on and on.

I remember that in the past, verifications from certifications or organisms, were more focused on work general conditions, more on payroll paperwork, on records and even on quality or food safety issues. But, for 4 years, they have been focused on social responsibility and work security. And these changes on the verifications are due to the demands of the market. It is not just about quality and food safety anymore, but it is also about social responsibility.

5. Which do you think are the benefits of the actions done by the company, in matters of social responsibility?

The actions that have been done by the company, like co-responsibility with the workers are reflected in what we talked previously: on the return, we have of workers, who return each year to work with us. Therefore, we have adapted our philosophy to the following: “if I want something different, I have to start by doing something different”.

I remember that when I first joined the company, there were houses with corrugated metal roofs at the shelters of La Cruz and Villa Juárez. Therefore, with so many demands and certifications, the company began the commitment of building new houses and started removing the houses that were made from metal. Also, regarding on housing improvements, the company gave a lot of certainty to workers, because they were offering better living conditions, farmworkers trusted us and accompanied us on the transition.

When we deliver the house to our casual farm workers, we give it to them in optimum conditions; with a stove, a gas cylinder and something to sleep (either a bunk bed or a cot). Before they were mainly cots, but, people don’t like them anymore. So, we are migrating to bunk beds and they are accepting them very well. Since we know that in many occasions workers arrive with no resources, we give them some groceries each time a bus arrives, so they can subsist while they receive their first payment.

We count with social security, which has been operating a little longer than 15 years. In its initial stage, it was through a program from the Mexican Institute of the Social Security, that consisted on sending a doctor each week to take care of the workers. However, with the time, it became insufficient and the company decided to hire a full-time doctor. Now, we have a medical facility, which is equipped with a doctor, a nurse, two beds and two cribs. As well as a pharmacy that contains the necessary basic medicines, which allows the doctor to do first contact consultations, and to resolve the most commune sickness on the community.

Doctors are very appreciated by the working community, to such extent that they easily identify the needs of the families, according to the characteristics of the people who live in the shelters.

Besides the medical service, we started to detect a lot of people with dental problems, so we included the dental service. It was difficult at first to culturize adults to go with a dentist, but we worked a lot with the minors, from the day care centers and elementary schools. At first, patients were mainly little kids. There was a lack of preventive culture and now, we observe that people are starting to trust more, including men, women, and adults. And that gives us a pattern of the evolution of the same people.

We make dental health campaigns for children. We give away toothbrushes. A detail was to transmit to parents our main objective, which was to improve their living conditions and their family’s too, because sometimes, some of the things that we must work on are topics like the education of the children of our farm workers.

On education, we offer to workers a day care center, preschool, elementary school, junior high school, and we also offer in conjunction with the INEA program, education for older adults.

The subject of preschool and elementary school becomes a very important topic. Nowadays, parents demand. At a certain moment, my schools were insufficient for the demand that I had of students, so, we had to look for the way to offer more studies. Our groups have grown.

Another of our benefits is to be able to supervise along with our workers, our payment schemes. We try to always be at the same level or above of what’s being offered in other companies. We always try to keep that in present, and the bosses’ treatment towards their workers. Most of them are country people, it is tough people, but they have learned at the end, that we are all people and that if you treat your collaborator right, the collaborator will respond you a 100%. I have always said that the worker, the human capital, is the most important base of the whole organization. And that’s why it is very important to take care of that work force.

Let’s add to this too, the benefits of the verifications. Verifications that are made by organisms that have launched various certifications for the improvement of worker’s conditions. We try to work in collaboration with organisms and institutions. Like for example in 2013, we worked in collaboration with Secretaría  de Salud, with the initiative “Vete Sano, Regresa Sano”, which means “Go healthy, come back healthy” in Spanish. This initiative was not mandatory, but since It helped us to improve the living conditions of our workers, we participated on it. This program helped us to regulate some paperwork concerning the health of workers. People already come with their medical certification, their vaccination card, their medical records and we inform the health secretariat everything we do in the medical part.

This same thing happens when we receive the certification of an Agricultural Company Free of Child Work, which is coordinated by the Work Secretariat. We were one of the first 14 companies that were awarded with this distinctive, in a voluntary way. We try to always be a step ahead in collaboration with the institutions and organisms. In two more years, when the Distinctive for Agricultural Companies Free of Child Work, becomes mandatory, we will already be part of it. The same thing happens with the Asociación de Agricultores del Río Culiacán with whom we had a good relationship and with whom we work with, on the management for the benefit of our workers.

Another of the benefits we work with, is the distinctive of a Socially Responsible Company, with whom we have been working with for 12 years already. Therefore, we have been using these practices this whole time, which translates itself on benefits for everyone. We have made blankets delivery campaigns, toy donations, parties, we celebrate Mother’s Day, and other Mexican festivities.

There are some schools where they instill altruism and donate toys. We have the fortune to be a company benefited by these institutions. In some occasions, we have had to decline some toy delivery offers because we have more toys than we can deliver.

We have campaigns to collect resources for donations for the kids. All these actions make people feel happy and that is one of the factors that make families come back to work with us year after year.

Our future objectives are to have larger groups and to have more secondary school graduates.

It is too much hard work from social workers to convince parents of the importance of the education their kids receive. We have various successful cases of farm worker’s children that have graduated from our educative system. One of them is Fabiola Pozos Hernández, an agricultural engineer, daughter of farm workers, who is currently a Field coordinator on production. She was born in Oaxaca, but she grew up here and was one of the few or the only daughter of this family that continued with her studies. She started as an intern and ended up working with us. She was one of the first agricultural engineer women that had the company. She has been working with us for about 5 years and she has demonstrated us her ability to lead a team. She broke all the paradigms that her family had when she decided to prepare herself professionally. She is an example for us and she has shown us that there are no barriers to develop yourself. In our company, we have various successful cases of these kind. Another notorious case, is our auditor; a young man who got out of the field. The company gave him permission to continue with his studies and right now, he is in charge of the verification department.

Most of the actions implemented by the company started from the conviction and the confidence given by Mr. Esquer, General Director of the company, to implement these actions in benefit of the workers.1

6. How do you consider that it benefits the employees of the company to work with a certification program?

In my experience, being able to work with a certification program, helps us with the organization of the company. Everything we had already done operatively, we started to do it more formally. And it helps us to evaluate ourselves, to see if we are improving, if we are accomplishing our goals. This scheme is very important to us. It helps us to accomplish the verification of the different trading companies, in a much easier way.

7. Since when do you participate in the implementation of the Eleven River’s certification Scheme?

Our company has always been interested on Eleven Rivers initiative, we have worked with its certification scheme since the beginning.

8. Tell us about your experience on the process of the implementation of the Eleven River’s certification Scheme.

When we first started with this certification, I felt a little bit of uncertainty, in the sense that we already had other certifications and we thought that it was somehow a way to repeat the efforts we had already been doing. However, we were always convinced of the importance of participating in this program and the benefits that it would bring to the company. When we first started, there was a little bit of resistance on the team work because they were more requirements than we had. It was something different, new and we also needed training for that. We also had to modify some things we did correctly. But, to give them a different order that represented an extra effort, was a personal challenge for social workers, because they had to emigrate to use a little more the scheme. Something that helped us a lot was the fact that at the same time we were working with Eleven Rivers, there were some other official certification programs oriented to social responsibility coming out, and we already had commercial certifications but more oriented to quality and food safety.

9. Do you consider that being incorporated to Eleven Rivers has brought any benefit to the company and if so, which are they?

Eleven Rivers has helped us to improve our processes. Everything I need for other commercial certifications, government agencies or trading companies, I can see it resumed on this certification. The advantage is that Eleven Rivers technicians have supported me on the way, which is something that has benefited me at the moment of doing other certifications.

We also have the advantage of working as a team with the technicians, the orientation on which processes to follow, the correction of the processes, the recommendations always with the propose of supporting and improving the daily operation of our company. It has helped us a lot and we can say that we have learned a lot from them. They helped us also to resolve some of the resistances of our work team, thanks to their commitment and the time they dedicated us. Therefore, we give such a great value to the scheme, because we count on a personalized technician for our operation.

The fact that some third person comes from the outside and supervises us and gives us a certainty of our processes and of the internal work we are doing, prepares you to improve your daily operations.

Eleven Rivers helps us generate manuals and processes, that help us keep track and control of the daily operations we make in the company, to have a team aligned to the requirements of the market, and to be able to evaluate constantly the activities we make.

In our experience, we have been able to reduce the times of foreign verifications. Even the auditors, themselves get surprised each time they ask us for some document and we already have it with the correct order, the operating manuals and a good control of the information.

Another of the benefits is the specialized training we receive each season, that besides increasing the knowledge of the staff, it helps you in the relations with other collaborators of the guild. This gives you a new perspective and helps you to exchange experiences that can help you to improve, and that is something very valuable to our companies.

At some point, we considered that having Eleven Rivers certification was going to help us to reach an added value on the foreign market for our products. We hope that as more companies join this iniiative we can achieve this, but aside from that, we appreciate the support they give us in our operations.

10. Anything else you would like to add?

We hope that soon, more agricultural companies will join from this state, because it is a program that can help them a lot to improve their daily operations.