Aveda And The Yawanawa: CSR Chief To Chief

"Aveda and the Yawanawa people have been working together for 17 years. Although there have been challenges in communicating and understanding each other—with one being a big company and the other a grassroots community deep in the Amazon—we are working toward the same goal, which is to protect the environment for the world." This is what Chief Tashka Yawanawa explained to me this afternoon by satellite phone. Chief Tashka leads the Yawanawa, an indigenous people who live in Acre, in the far western part of Brazil.

According to Tashka, Aveda has helped to more than double the size of the Yawanawa's land rights to 178,000 hectares (687 square miles), and has provided support to protect the land. Without Aveda's efforts, Tashka explained, "we wouldn't have a future." Together with Aveda, "we work in harmony, we have our health, our land, our identity, and our future."

The global village also benefits. With the Yawanawa land in the Amazon Rainforest that is now protected with Aveda's help, 30 million tons of carbon will not be released. Beyond its work in Acre, and reflecting its broader global approach, Aveda is the first company to endorse and sign the Ceres Principles (Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies), a corporate code of environmental conduct.

What's the value to Aveda? In a private interview with Dominique Conseil, President, at The Economist Conference on Corporate Citizenship 2010, Conseil explained to me that Aveda sees the natural world as the source for the raw materials for the health and beauty products that Aveda produces and uses, "as long as we are responsible stewards of our limited natural resources." In the Amazon, for example, the urukum pigment harvested by the Yawanawa from urukum trees provides the rich, resonant color that Aveda uses for make-up, shampoos, conditioners, and styling products. Additionally, the packaging for the Aveda Yuruku Bronzer is adorned with symbols used in Yawanawan face painting ceremonies.  The symbols represent wisdom and healing (the diamond), courage and strength (the arrow), and sustenance of life (the fish).

In order to fulfill its commitments to other global communities from which Aveda sources ingredients, the company partners with a variety of NGOs that have expertise as well as grassroots relationships. One such partnership is with Global Greengrants Fund. "With funds from Aveda's sale of Light the Way Candles during Earth Month (over a million dollars in 2009), we provide grants to social and economic justice groups around the developing world through a network of activist advisors," explained Terry Odendahl, President, in a private interview with me. Additionally, Odendahl said, "Aveda established a donor advised fund to give back to communities where the company sources their ingredients."

In the process of securing land rights for the Yawanawa, Conseil and his special advisor on natural resources, David Hircock, also helped to provide Tashka with a platform at the U.N. and an introduction to Prince Charles. Tashka's wish is that the partnership with Aveda will be a model for other companies.

Imagining that this partnership had its challenges and "lessons learned," I asked Tashka and Hircock about this. They pointed out that the process is slow and requires patience. For example, the Yawanawa make all decisions by consensus, so that when Tashka meets with Conseil to plan, he must always check back with the Yawanawa for their input. Furthermore, the Yawanawa may take days to process a matter and come to a decision before Tashka can get back to Conseil. Hircock said, "We are learning from each other," and Tashka agreed.

Do the Yawanawa people trust Aveda, I asked. Tashka responded that his people understand that this relationship ultimately benefits them and the community. Most importantly Tashka explained that Aveda respects that this is a tribal community, and recognizes when certain decisions must be made by the Yawanawa amongst themselves. "We don't interfere," said Hircock. "We let the community decide. This is a long-term relationship."

And what happens if there are challenges in the future, I asked Tashka. "Then we will talk, Chief to Chief," responded Tashka, referring to Conseil.

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