3S Awards Corner: VOS Interview

VOS representative (Jose Flores) receives the 3S Employee Engagement Award 2012 from Dr. Zia Khan, VP of Rockefeller Foundation

VOS representative (Jose Flores) receives the 3S Employee Engagement Award 2012 from Dr. Zia Khan, VP of Rockefeller Foundation

3S People, 3S Community, 3S Environment – Sustainable & Socially Responsible Sourcing!

The GSC 3S Award Gala Event provided an opportunity for thought leaders in sustainable and socially responsible sourcing to network and celebrate the winners of the GSC 3S Awards.

This month’s interviews with 2012 WINNERS: 

Community Engagement Award: Alter Eco 
Employee Engagement AwardVOS

To learn more about our winners, you can not only click on the website links but look at the 3S Awards. 3S Award Site.

VOS Interview:

VOS, now having ten employees, was founded by José Alejandro Flores in San Antonio, Texas and Guatemala City, Guatemala. Over the next year, VOS is poised to diversify our collection of 100% recyclable natural rubber flip flops and continue our efforts to expand the presence of VOS® in the marketplace; over the next five years, we aim to expand the eco-friendly product offering outside of the VOS logofootwear category while continually sourcing sustainable raw materials and exploring additional humanitarian needs which can be addressed alongside those of healthcare, footwear and education. Our significant partners are Soles4Souls, Agro Salud, Gremial de Huleros, and Dream Center San Antonio.

Can you tell us about the element of inspiration and purpose that pushed your organization towards pursuing goals in sustainable and socially responsible practices, as opposed to a strictly profits-based model?

The inspiration came from lifelong experiences over 3 decades which exposed me to realistic humanitarian and environmental needs around the globe and then coupling the aforementioned with my passion for international business. VOS® was founded as an answer to a simple but profound question: Can you afford to care? As a result, the Give+Give+Recycle™ social initiative was created which promises to give a pair of footwear away to a person in need for every pair sold. The social initiative also supports natural rubber-producing communities with basic health care and education, initially in Guatemala. The social initiative is implemented in partnership with Soles4Souls, the international shoe charity. Basic health care and education is initially provided in partnership with Agro Salud Guatemala and the Guatemalan National Rubber Association.

The idea of creating a 100% recyclable natural rubber collection of flip fops was born more than a decade ago while I was spending time in Brazil and other South American countries. This idea was coupled with my lifelong exposure to the global sport of soccer, where feet and shoes are an integral part of the game. The idea of VOS® as a brand was born due to a “vos” expression used throughout Central & South America that is a colloquial version of the formal “vosotros” Castilian spoken in Spain.

The providing of healthcare and education to the agricultural communities that cultivate sustainable raw material used in the VOS® natural rubber flip flops was a direct inspiration through my exposure to the need of the same. I volunteered my time as a linguistic translator for many years with organizations that provide medical attention to rural indigenous communities in Latin America. Being fortunate enough to acquire an International MBA, I am a huge advocate of education therefore I was empowered to build and support programs that provide educational opportunities to communities and individuals that do not readily have access to them.

The providing of shoes to individuals that do not have proper footwear was an inspiration of my passion for the global sport of soccer. Growing up, I would collect used soccer shoes and balls in the U.S. and would take them with me to give to underprivileged individuals in Latin America. I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world over and every opportunity I would get, I’d play soccer with local members of the communities and I always found so many individuals playing barefooted on an array of surfaces. This in turn enlightened me to the reality of the millions of people around the globe that cannot afford basic footwear; hence I was inspired to help alleviate this issue through the Give+Give+Recycle™ social initiative.

What do you understand by corporate social responsibility? What do you understand by sustainable sourcing practices?

I understand Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as being a company’s deed of going beyond what may be required by regulators or environmental protection groups to effectively carry out commercial obligations to its stakeholders and end-consumers. It encompasses initiatives which assess and take responsibility for a company’s effects on
the environment and impact on social welfare.

I understand Sustainable Sourcing Practices (SSP) as the integration of ecological concerns with social and economic ones that in-turn minimizes uneconomic growth that would otherwise deplete ecosystem services. Sustainable sourcing extends to all aspects of a supply chain and infiltrates all procurement practices of an organization by carefully evaluating the economic, social and environmental aspects against a defined set of criteria.

I’d summarize CSR and SSP as “corporate citizenship” which can involve incurring short-term costs that do not provide an immediate financial benefit to the company, but instead promote positive social and environmental change. Our organization’s mantra is “it’s not about “us” … it’s about “we” … we can make a positive difference together!

Did you – at any point – come to regret that your company is following this path? What were some of the biggest rewards?

Not for a second. It is paramount for the consumer marketplace to be aware of the global realities which are faced day-in and day-out by billions of people around the globe. Some of the biggest rewards come from the fact that the humanitarian intentions are sincere which is clearly sensed and embraced by the end-consumers which support the company and global social initiative. In addition, the smiles are genuine and heartfelt on the faces of the recipients of our humanitarian initiatives being provided healthcare, foot wear and education without us expecting anything in-return for the giving.

What do you think sets you apart – as far as business model is concerned – from other companies from your sector?

We take the Triple Bottom Line concept 1 step further than other companies. Instead of just considering People, Planet and Profit we also take into consideration the End-Consumer. In other words, we have found that most brands in the marketplace, which are tied to a social initiative ask consumers to spend more on their products to either keep profits high or to sustain the charitable side of their business. This inevitably took VOS® to the original question: Can most people afford to care?

More importantly, can VOS® create high quality products, which are good for the environment and while help others in need without asking people to spend more?

Yes. By reducing the profit margin and strategically partnering with national and international organizations, VOS® created a sustainable business model. This enables most people to support the cause and the different social initiatives of all the organizations VOS® has partnered with by offering eco-friendly products tied to a social initiative at a price point that is competitive with products that do not give-back at all in any fashion.

We believe that if a brand’s mission is to sincerely carry out philanthropy, there is not a need to inflate the final end-consumer price in order to carry out the same. A brand should be willing to realistically cut from their bottom line in order to carry out the philanthropic activities supported by the same. A final point that sets us apart is that we align with the United Nations Global Compact program which asks organization to embrace ten principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment and anti-corruption.


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