ENDING THE VIOLENCE

Federico Bernaldo de Quiros, CEO of the Mexican restaurant chain TOKS, wants to fight the violence in Mexican society. He does so by developing the capacity of poor communities to become suppliers.
Federico Bernaldo De Quiros
Chief Executive Officer
Restaurantes TOKS

“As CEO, one of my first responsibilities is to ensure a future for the company, and the best way of doing so is to help bring about the more equal development of
all of the country.”

FEDERICO BERNALDO DE QUIROS

When Bernaldo de Quiros looks at Mexican society today, one thing really hurts the eye: the violence. Fuelled by drug trafficking and poverty, violent crime – and especially murder – has soared in specific parts of Mexico over the past ten years. As the CEO of TOKS restaurant chain, de Quiros cannot do much about the drug trafficking, but he can do something about the poverty.

“From my perspective, poverty is one of the key reasons for violence and affects not only businesses, but the whole of society. So, that’s why we decided to focus on poverty as the root of the violence problem that we have in our country. We think that by helping to solve poverty, people will be less vulnerable to drug cartels and other kinds of violence,” says de Quiros.

Using TOKS restaurants’ need for quality products as a driver, the company has started to collaborate with some of the poorest communities in Mexico. The aim is to develop these communities’ capacity to produce quality goods such as premium coffee, marmalades and granola, and other products. This initiative means that the communities receive a larger and steadier income. The marmalade initiative in Guanajuato has increased people’s incomes more than fifty-fold and all the projects have raised 5,000 families permanently out of poverty. TOKS, on the other hand, obtains quality products for its customers, says de Quiros, and the projects add to TOKS brand as a responsible chain of family restaurants.

“In the case of coffee, this is grown in a sustainable manner and is the highest quality that can be bought. At the end of the day, what we are doing is delivering first-class products to our customers. They reward us for it by preferring us, and at the same time we’re dealing with the poverty issue. So, from the business perspective, it’s a win-win case. We’re winning because we’re giving our customers first-class products and we’re helping that community to move away from poverty,” says de Quiros.

TOKS is part of the Mexican Group Gigante, which has retail, real estate and hospitality operations. As de Quiros sees it, the business’s social drive has been part of their company culture since Angel Losada Gomez started the business in 1940. Perhaps it is this culture that makes de Quiros quite comfortable about criticizing politicians for being much too focused on getting elected or doing too little to create a fairer distribution of income in Mexico. To him, it is part of the job.

“As CEO, one of my first responsibilities is to ensure a future for the company, and the best way of doing so is to help bring about the more equal development of all of the country. Otherwise, business will be unsustainable. This is also the feeling of the board and the reason why we engage in fighting poverty. The problem is so big that we cannot leave this to the government alone. We need to participate more actively. Based on this realization, we’ve started to build the different initiatives,” says de Quiros.

TOKS started the community projects in 2003 and is still actively pursuing new projects. “This is a long-term effort,” say de Quiros “It’s clear that the reasons for, or the roots of, the violence are not something that you can solve in a day and were not caused by what has happened in the last few years. No one thinks we can solve the problems of poverty or violence quickly,” he says.

However, in the communities that have benefitted from TOKS’ commitment to fighting poverty, progress has been consolidated. Business is growing and some are exporting, but perhaps the greatest testimony to the sustainability of the projects is that even when the Mexican economy hit a wall in 2009 and GDP shrank by almost 6%, TOKS did not stop them. “It wouldn’t make sense even in a crisis,” says de Quiros, “At that time, the projects had already become an integral part of our supply chain, equally as important as other multinational suppliers such as Coca-Cola or Unilever.”


WHAT’S NEXT?
A SUCCESS IN SLOW MOTION

Bernaldo de Quiros sees significant progress on corporate sustainability, but it is “A success in slow motion” as he puts it.

“There is still a long way to go. I think we need to move from a traditional focus on sustainability as a risk-management issue to it being part of a long-term vision that shapes the key decisions of the company,” says de Quiros.