CSR is in our bones

As we celebrate our 75th anniversary of continuous operation, we reflect not only on our achievements but also on the values that have guided us throughout our journey – respect, equality, support and integrity.

They are not just words; they are the foundation upon which our company is built, and they shape our commitment to corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSR).

If we accept that the primary pillars of CSR are ethical, philanthropic, environmental and economic responsibility, most companies practice CSR with the broad goal of contribution to the well-being of the communities they serve and upon which they depend.  Access Industries goes a little further by implementing CSR as a business discipline that must achieve KPIs and real-life results.

Ethical and philanthropic investment is our business purpose

Access was formed in 1949 by a small group of people with physical disability wanting to create economic and community participation for themselves and others through meaningful employment.  At that time there was no government support for people with disability who were not injured in war service.  In other words, civilian disability was excluded.  Hence the founding name, the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association (CMLA), NSW.

ithin the first ten years, CMLA shook the very foundations of public attitude to disability by introducing motorised wheelchairs for improved mobility.  People with physical disability were being seen more often going about their regular employment and social habits, just like everyone else.  Before you know it, CMLA organised The Motorised Wheelchair Carnival at Centennial Park where around 500 spectators witnessed their inaugural deaf-defying races and skills trails.

On the employment front, the first employment workshop in NSW was established on RPA Sydney hospital grounds, where five people in wheelchairs were trained to bind fishing rods for Slazenger.

Improved employment AND lifestyle opportunities was the aim of CMLA, which was achieved with the opening of Gladstone Hall, a multi-purpose residence that provided a real home for adults with severe physical disability who would otherwise be tenanted in institutions.  All these incredible milestones were funded by the CMLA members own efforts, sourcing donations through the introduction of an Art Union, or by community philanthropy.

During the 50s and 60s, CMLA’s growth continued to boom: one workshop turned into two, then three, employing over 100 people with disability.  For a time, the association was managing the kiosk at Lidcombe State Hospital where CMLA’s share of profits provided services for patients with disability.

There is no doubt some formidable minds within the founding group were helping to shape growth because these workshops continued to prosper.  However, the rock-solid commitment to guiding principles of sustainable and meaningful employment for people with disability was the driving force of the groups’ continued success

We invest utmost in our people
In 1980 CMLA changed its name to Access Industries for the Disabled Pty Ltd – a significant move that recognised evolving community need. The charity organisation now included people with intellectual impairment and well as physical disability, acknowledging there should be no barriers to employment for anyone with disability, regardless of their impairment.

Fast forward to today, Access business operations include packing solutions, timber products, industrial sewing and employment in laundry and linen services, as well as Supported Employment services and an RTO.

Across our five sites in NSW, we employ around 600 people.  Of that number, around 260 at any given time are people with disability.  We call them supported employees.  They work alongside their non-supported colleagues receiving the individual level of support they require to achieve their allotted work tasks and career goals.

Business operations operate competitively in their own field however our disability services are provided through our own fundraising efforts and those of the thousands of supporters over the years.  We do this through Lottery tickets, donations and appeals.  Every dollar we raise goes directly towards supporting employees with disability, providing specialised training if required, and necessary aids like assistive technology in the workplace.

Our philanthropic services extend to work experience programs for students with disability; learning workplace skills in preparation for a hopefully seamless transition from school to supported employment.  To date we work with around a dozen schools in Sydney and Newcastle, with about 100 students at a time.

One of the parents succinctly describe the aim of our program.  “It gives us hope that there are options for employment for our children when they leave school.”

Environmental Stewardship

Following the devastation of the 1989 Newcastle earthquake, several Access Newcastle employee work crews were among the first civilians in the community to formerly assist with clean-up and restoration.  One work crew spent five weeks cleaning and reglazing Rose Farm – a specialised nursery measuring over two hectares under glass.

Another crew worked cleaning old bricks from the rubble to be re-used to maintain the appearance of Newcastle’s gracious old buildings in rebuild and restoration.

Around the same time a pair of enterprising Newcastle employees won the Hunter Envirofest competition focused on recycling waste products.  Their winning entry – a brick made of wastepaper perfectly fitted the brief of recycling and reuse.

Back in Sydney, our Seven Hills site was gaining attention with its rubber reclamation project.  We collected used tyre tubes from all over NSW for reprocessing. Natural rubber was handled locally, and synthetic butyl rubber was sent overseas for reclamation.

These days, our business units operate site-specific quality control measures to deliver our company-wide commitment to environmental stewardship.

In our packing solutions for instance, to minimize transportation and CO2 emissions, we unload and despatch in full semi-trailers. Most of the time we use unprinted recycled cardboard for our shippers, that are 80% recyclable. Our shrink film is soft plastic recyclable, and all plastic waste is recycled.

We use LED lighting throughout our operations and even manage our tech waste through relevant recycling service providers if we can’t refurbish or reuse.

Economic responsibility

Our business units operate commercially and competitively in their own field.  Our difference is our employment model.  We are who we are because of who we employ.  Everyone decision we make for a profitable future is based on what is sustainable and meaningful for our supported employees.

In one way it’s a simple strategic approach with very little conflict. Our purpose remains clear.  Our business profits and our fundraising endeavours are all directed towards how we can improve, expand and further develop employment opportunities for people with disability. The end goal isn’t just to maximize profits, but to ensure our business operations positively impact the environment, people, and society.

We have supervisors, senior managers and even board members who started with Access Industries as a supported employee. Our supported employees work alongside their peers without disability in the same workplace environment as everyone else, receiving as much or as little support they need to achieve their allotted tasks and employment goals. Some will recover from a major injury impact and return to open employment if that is their goal. Others come to find a home at Access Industries and will work through their career goals with us for many years, even decades.

Finally, integrity is non-negotiable. It’s not enough to simply do the right thing when it’s convenient; we must uphold the highest standards of honesty, transparency, and ethical behaviour always. This means conducting our business with integrity, from how we treat our employees and suppliers to how we engage with our customers and shareholders.

Our corporate responsibility efforts are deeply rooted in our company values of respect, equality, support, and integrity. By upholding these values in everything we do, we not only fulfill our obligations to society but also strengthen our business for the long term. As we look to the future, we will continue to be guided by these principles, knowing that they will lead us to even greater heights of success and impact. In the end, people are our purpose. Isn’t that what CSR is all about?

Help continue with our purpose