The Emmaus community of Pamplona has turned its working practices into a benchmark for the whole region, in terms of its efficiency in collecting and reusing waste and the empowerment of the people it employs.
The Emmaus community in Pamplona has, over the years, come to grips with the growing challenges associated with the collection, recycling and reuse of discarded objects. During the initial years of the movement, items recovered by the “Emmaus ragpickers” became a source of income for communities, forming a basis for their economic independence and their solidarity work. Then public policy became increasingly involved in this sector; ministries for the environment gained influence and European directives imposed recycling and waste treatment targets, opening the door to major players who began operating in Emmaus’ field. Companions, who gradually became deprived of raw materials, refocused on the collection of used objects.
The Pamplona group, the only organised stakeholder working in this sector in the city, sought to promote its expertise in the field to public authorities. As part of an agreement, companions worked with municipal teams on pilot projects to find the best way to selectively collect and process waste, in order to avoid systematic disposal. This collaboration led to the city’s approval of the methods used by Emmaus, in particular its door-to-door collection work by prior appointment. This public policy stamp of approval officially recognises an optimal work system, which allows for a very high level of salvage work (up to 80% of the objects), quality restoration, the fight against the exclusion of people previously perceived as a social problem, and the sale of repaired objects at low prices to low-income segments of the population. To date, seven municipalities (mancomunidad) covering 72% of the population of the Navarre region have adopted the Emmaus system.
The group has continued its advocacy efforts to fight unfair laws that affect the most disadvantaged. It has helped to make the mancomunidad of Pamplona the first public entity to meet the European Union’s aim of managing and financing the prevention and preparation for re-use of discarded objects. Through an advocacy campaign carried out some fifteen years ago as part of a coalition of organisations, the group has achieved the following: a clause in public contracts granted by all the local authorities in Navarre now ensures that 6% of contracts for works and services, in number and value, are reserved for reintegration organisations, centres dedicated to the employment of disadvantaged people, as well as collectives working to combat social exclusion. The Emmaus Pamplona group has also been very active in the Alternative Economy Network, gaining recognition for its non-capitalist productive, social, environmental, and solidarity-based role.
In addition to covering the needs of the 26 companions living in the community, the work resulting from these developments has enabled the Emmaus group to offer jobs to a group of 265 people from 34 nationalities, two thirds of whom have a long history of personal problems. All of them are now duly covered by employment law, including full social security provisions and access to training. The Pamplona group sees its role as fighting for people’s right to work, even when they are undocumented. It has introduced a 32.5-hour working week (compared to the maximum of 40 hours under Spanish law) in order to share employment among a larger number of people. It has also implemented equal pay for all, regardless of the task or level of responsibility. This choice allows management practices to be consistent with the group’s values. And it is a concrete way to fight against widespread competition, which is even rampant between organisations that run social initiatives. They also fight against laws that systematically forget the most disadvantaged.