Emmaus Europe


Banks and poverty: how to prevent the hellish cycle?

In partnership with other French organisations, Emmaus France has just published a manifesto for universal financial inclusion.

In September 2021, inflation observed since summer 2021 was eroding people’s purchasing power and led to fears of households’ financial situations worsening; with household finances already weakened by the COVID crisis. Spearheaded by Emmaus France, a collective of organisations has formulated 16 recommendations for better financial inclusion and improved access to vital payment methods and banking services, involving beneficiaries in the process.

We are chatting to Thibaut Largeron, the report coordinator for Emmaus. He explains to us the challenges involved and the proposals made.

 Why have you decided to tackle this issue in France?

In France, the Emmaus Movement is a financial inclusion pioneer. In 1967 via SOS Familles Emmaüs (SOS FE), we invented personal supported microcredit, a concept that would be taken up by the public authorities in the 2000s. Our strong point: offering these advances from Emmaus’ own funds and outside the traditional banking system, sometimes to people with zero repayment capacity for whom funding a project (buying a vehicle, for instance) will enable them to access employment!

Likewise, budgeting and debt issues are at the heart of SOS FE’s work: since these organisations were founded, our volunteers have been offering support and budget advice to households, just like the budget advice service set up by the State in 2018.

More generally, ethical finance issues are one of the Movement’s priorities, affect all of our beneficiaries, and are relevant at the international level too: access to banking services for the most vulnerable people, access to credit, savings schemes, etc. . Nowadays, the financialization of our society and the liberal capitalist system mean that the banks’ economic model is based on exploiting the most vulnerable people: people on low incomes are hit hard by bank penalty charges, and those who are digitally excluded have to pay charges for services that are free online…without even mentioning the banks’ investments in fossil fuels!

The Emmaus Movement in France, via the national organisation, is also a member of the Observatoire de l’inclusion bancaire (Monitoring Unit for Banking Inclusion), headed by the governor of the Banque de France, under the auspices of the Ministry of Finance. The unit brings together representatives of all the relevant stakeholders (public bodies, third-sector organisations, banks). It is the central body for measuring and fostering financial inclusion. It gives us a legitimate voice, and, above all, we are expected!

When we use the term “financial inclusion”, what are we actually talking about?

According to the World Bank, financial inclusion means that individuals and businesses have access to […] financial products and services – transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance […]. Banks therefore play a pivotal role in this process, as financial inclusion does not just boil down to having access to a bank account, but more general use of banking products and services: savings, access to credit, account services, account fees and penalty charges, etc.

The Manifesto for Universal Financial Inclusion covers all of these highly varied topics. We want to enable access to payment methods for all, for instance for the Emmaus companions without leave to remain, or asylum seekers, who do not have access to cash in France. Like many Emmaus groups around the world, we want to foster access to credit for vulnerable people, so that they can access employment and be independent. We are taking action to pre-empt and avoid serious debt through budgeting workshops for young people and prison leavers, and we want to roll them out more widely.

Finally, we are calling for a reform of bank fees to make them fairer: how can we accept that bank penalty charges in France bring in over €6.7 billion for the banks, with an average profit margin of 86%, and all on the backs of the poorest people? SOS Familles Emmaüs see every day in their work how these penalty charges fuel the spiral of serious debt. Finally, the last part of the manifesto focuses on news relating to the Ukraine war.

 The SOS Familles Emmaüs concept only exists in France. Can the model be replicated?

Indeed, there are 62 SOS Familles Emmaüs today in France. Solely made up of volunteers, they cater for and provide a listening ear to anyone experiencing financial problems. Having assessed their situation, the SOS FE put forward solutions to balance their budgets, avoid serious debt, and leave behind their difficulties. The SOS FE offer bespoke, personalised solutions that best fit each person’s situation; it is really painstaking work! For instance, they may offer a reimbursable financial advance, funded by the work of a community or committee of friends in the local area; making for a real chain of Emmaus solidarity!

These budgeting and “making ends meet” issues affect all Europeans: the precarious nature of employment, benefits not being uprated, the cost of housing and transport…all combine to quickly plunge households into problem debt. Costs are rising – with an average 10.4% inflation in Europe (10.5% in the UK and 8.6% in Germany, for instance) – and debt is piling up, and many households are experiencing major financial problems.

Moreover, for many years, the share of “fixed costs” (owed by households contractually or via subscriptions) has continued to rise! The work of the SOS FE chimes with other local contexts, and could quite easily be tailored to them. Moreover, outside Europe other groups are offering financial advances for occupational activities – while this differs, the issues around support may be similar.

Is legislation the same across Europe?

In France, we are fortunate to have a large number of mechanisms that protect people who are financially vulnerable. Indeed, over the past decade and thanks to the efforts of anti-poverty and consumer protection associations, the legal framework has been added to and improved. Several laws and then decrees have put in place an overall cap on bank penalty charges for the most “vulnerable”. In 2006, the State created a personal supported microcredit service, enabling people unable to access traditional credit to fund the expenditure involved in getting back into work. The legal right to a bank account (notably for people without leave to remain) has been simplified, but it still needs improving. Since 2016, France has had a national strategy on economic, budgeting and financial education (EDUCFI). However, there is still a lot to be done or to be improved!

What is being done in France could inspire other European countries, just like we draw inspiration from Belgian “universal banking service” or “basic banking service” initiatives, which also exist in Portugal (Cuenta Serviços Mínimos Bancários). At the European level, Emmaus France has worked on the rollout of the new directive on consumer credit, which the European Commission is in the process of finalising.

So are there things to be done at the European level?

Totally! As I was saying, the first stage could involve exchanges of practices to share our issues and draw inspiration from each other. This could also be highly beneficial!

For a year, Emmaus France has also been taking part in the European “Financial Inclusion Europe” working group. This network of experts and academics is committed to solving financial exclusion by engaging with the EU institutions and raising their awareness, but also giving a voice to those affected. The EU may be the right level at which to achieve change! The new credit directive is a step in the right direction, i.e., protecting and informing consumers.


Manifesto for Universal Financial Inclusion

Comparative analysis of basic bank accounts in Europe (Financité research – Anne Fily)

Solidarity with Ukraine: A new social center to escape war and poverty

On 6 January, companions, friends, and partners of Emaus Oselya gathered for the inauguration of the new support centre “Olesya Sanotska” in Vynykky, Lviv, Ukraine.

It almost felt like a miracle standing in front of a building with nothing but a hole in the ground, less than five months ago. Many people have made incredible efforts to build this house in the shortest time possible, with a Russian invasion and full-scale war always present. The key person in this process is the community leader of Emmaus Olesya, Natalia Sanotska, sister of Olesya Sanotska, the deceased founder of the Emaus Oselya community. Natalia ensured that every little piece in this 400 m2 building fell into place. This project is an excellent example of what happens when the Emmaus movement, a private construction company, the local council and other various NGOs, parishes and churches come together for a common goal.

“Anyone can become homeless”, said Leonid Melnyk, managing director and owner of the Rial construction company in Lviv, in his speech at the inauguration. In just five months, he and his builders completed the support centre, despite the war and sometimes a shortage of building materials. Leonid has been in the building sector for more than 40 years, but this project was the dearest to him and where he has put his heart and soul.

There have been doubts about making such a significant investment in a country at war, but why wait? It is now they need the centre the most. A quarter of the Ukrainian population has left their homes. Many have left for the western parts of the country, like Lviv. This new centre will be a unique meeting place for many internally displaced people and the homeless. It is a possibility to welcome people with dignity. I am proud that we managed to build something new while the eastern parts of the country are suffering from Russian missiles and put into ruins.

Natalia and her companions from the Emaus Oselya community will start welcoming homeless and internally displaced people to the new centre in the middle of this month, offering services such as showers, medical and social advice, hairdressing, and laundry. There will also be a small cafeteria and a free shop with clothes.

Ten beds will also be available for the ones who need to spend a few nights to rest on the road to exile.

I want to thank all Emmaus groups in Europe who contributed to the Ukraine Fund. I am proud, impressed, and grateful that together with Emaus Oselya and their partners, we were able to complete this project. Helping people in need are natural to Emaus Oselya. That is what they have done for more than 14 years now in a small support centre, but to build a house in the middle of the war, is something extraordinary. Only remarkable people could be brave enough to accomplish a project like this in such a short period.

Let this house be where lost people will find new meaning in life, where tired people can get new energy and wash away their problems in the shower – at least for a while. Let this centre be a meeting place where miracles happen and where people regain hope and a belief in the future.


At the inauguration, Leïla Thouret, Jean-Philippe Légaut and Carina Aaltonen represented the Emmaus Europe executive, and Eve Poulteau and Emmanuel Rabourdin represented the Emmaus Europe secretariat. Zbigniew Drazkovsky from Emmaus Lublin was also present as a long-time partner of Oselya


Preview of the Social Center on our Instagram page @emmauseurope

By Carina Aaltonen 

Back to activism with the Emmaus in the Netherlands!

Lately the Emmaus groups in the Netherlands have been acting more together and locally to raise the public awareness on different issues (migrations, overconsumption) and with different partners (extinction rebellion, the Dutch design week, etc.) 

This month we meet with the new National Delegate for the Netherlands, Yvette Gumbs, to ask her all about it. 







– Hi Yvette, your last action was on the eve of the International Migrants Day, can you tell us more about it? 

The number of undocumented migrants in the Netherlands is estimated to be between 25,000 and 58,000 people. They are often asylum seekers who have exhausted all legal remedies or people with an expired residence permit. Most have been living in the Netherlands for more than 20 years. Due to their status, they live with many insecurities. For example, they often do not know whether they will have enough to eat, a roof over their heads or access to health care. In addition, they run the risk of being exploited. Children born here have no vision of their future and live a shadow life that is hopeless because they have no papers. 

Many undocumented migrants have been affected by the coronacrisis. For example, they lost their job as a cleaner or their job in the hospitality industry. Because they are not entitled to benefits or help from, for example, the food bank, they often no longer know how to get food. 

We set up a kind of guerrilla campaign with all Dutch Emmaus branches. All branches saved clothes, shoes and school supplies and these were brought to Amsterdam on Friday 16 December by the drivers. We were allowed to use a church in Amsterdam for free to set up a pop-up store for a day.  

Saturday 17 December we jointly built up the pop-up location and handed out items for free, our statement was: : Let’s give a voice to all undocumented migrants on Saturday 17 December in Amsterdam! 

The idea was also to say that we were doing our part in welcoming the migrants and that the government should do his. 

The action was very successful, and the Emmaus branches liked working together it and it was visible to show people what Emmaus stands for and to jointly do these kinds of actions. A good example of fighting together to help those in need. We even got an email from the municipal of Amsterdam stating that they were grateful for our action. 


– It has actually been quite important developments in the Netherlands recently regarding the migrants rights and the recognition on the impact of Dutch colonisation… 

 In October, a court ruled that the Netherlands was not meeting international standards and said the government should ensure every asylum seeker had access to a roof over their heads, food, water and sanitary provisions. The court also ordered the state to take immediate action. 

But the state and refugee settlement agency appealed, arguing they needed more time to comply. The appeal court has now ruled in their favour.  

Still, the appeal court also said that the Dutch state had made an unlawful distinction between refugees from Ukraine and asylum seekers from other countries. ‘Both groups are fleeing war and violence and no difference should be made in the reception of these groups,’ the court said. ‘The state must therefore treat these groups equally.’ Refugees from Ukraine have been admitted to the Netherlands without going through asylum procedures and they are allowed to work directly. 

On positive action of the Dutch government is that the Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologised on in December on behalf of his government for the Netherlands’ historical role in slavery and the slave trade. The Netherlands will establish a €200 million fund for initiatives to help address slavery’s legacy in the Netherlands and its former colonies and to promote education about the issue. 

During the 17th century, the Netherlands was one of the world’s wealthiest countries, with its economic growth relying heavily on the slave trade. “We who live in today’s world must acknowledge the evils of slavery in the clearest possible terms, and condemn it as a crime against humanity,” Rutte said. 


– The Emmaüs groups in the Netherlands are also active on the topic of fast fashion and overconsumption can you give us some examples of actions and partnerships? 

It’s widely known that the fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world. We buy 60% more clothing than 15 years ago and wear those items half as long. 

Consumers treat cheap clothes as practically disposable, with estimates suggesting they’re thrown away after just seven or eight wears. In the Netherlands alone, 240 million kilos of textile are wasted every year. 

Boosting clothing reuse and repair is one of the Emmaus awareness projects we are aiming for. We do this of course by selling second hand clothes and trying to find partnerships to do so.  

Emmaus Bilthoven par example saves up materials designers can use to make new sustainable fashion. Last year a designer used all our ties to design new bags.  

On Thursday, November 24 Emmaus Haarzuilens organised a campaign around overproduction and overconsumption of textiles. The day before Black Friday, people were in centre of Utrecht in a party tent with banners, flyers and a pile of clothes. Public were encouraged to pick out clothes for free with the slogan “everything is already there; you really don’t need to buy anything new! “. 

It was a joint action with Extinction Rebellion, a decentralised, international and politically non-partisan movement using non-violent direct action and civil disobedience to persuade governments to act justly on the Climate and Ecological Emergency. 

Extinction Rebellion also helped our undocumented action in Amsterdam by distributing clothes leftover from the Anti Black Friday action. 

During the Dutch Design Week 2022 in Eindhoven several Emmaus groups participated in the exhibition Manifestations in the Veem building. Next to Emmaus Eindhoven there were also contributions and help from Emmaus groups from Utrecht, Bilthoven, Wageningen and Tegelen. The Dutch Design Week unite many designers and using used/ recycled materials are widely represented.   

Emmaus Netherlands wants to encourage artists to use this material and to give their point of view on sustainability in our society. We want to do more active actions and have therefore set up a few workgroups who come together to discuss further actions. I think these joint actions make us stronger in stimulating awareness with the general public for these very important issues and to let people know what Emmaus stands for.

It also helps us get the younger generation to volunteer at Emmaus. 


Emmaus Mundo

Credit - Emmaus Mundo

Emmaus Mundo: a green, open, multi-activity sales area!

The renovation of a sales area, a key space in any Emmaus group, may represent an opportunity to launch new projects. We met with Joël from Emmaus Mundo and Nicolas from Bâtisseurs d’Instants (Builders of Moments) and they told us all about their adventure of creating a new sales area in Alsace whilst bearing in mind the challenges our world is facing.

You recently inaugurated your sales area, but it’s much more than a mere sales area, isn’t it? 

In order to find a sustainable solution to the challenges of tomorrow we at Emmaus Mundo decided to develop a new site in North Eurométropole, Strasbourg, with a view to widening the scope of our activities and our missions and to have a new tool to help tackle the challenges created by a society of excessive consumption which constantly produces both consumer goods and deepening exclusion.

We believed that this new site should take into account the different challenges of the ecological transition and the transition to a more solidarity-focused society. Being cramped (too cramped) on our old site (which was 1,300m2), it became essential for us to find a new site in order to simplify and fluidify the way we work and to be able to develop new projects related to the transitions our society is facing. Our cooperative and solidarity-based recycling centre recently opened (after four years of work) in Bischheim. On this 4000m2-site (on a 1-hectare plot of land), 1900m2 will be dedicated to sales areas whilst we have also built workshops (for carpentry work, for fixing electric goods, a FabLab and a sewing area), as well as a conference room and a restaurant!

For the layout of the site we decided to get in touch with a scenographer to help us think about the division of the spaces, the movement of people around the site and the appeal of the areas, focusing on creating a fun atmosphere and having aesthetically-pleasing shops. The idea was to avoid making duplicates of things we already have and to opt for materials that have been reused or recycled wherever possible.

This new site is a lot bigger than your old site, what are your ambitions in terms of the development of your social initiatives in Bischheim? 

This upscaling of Emmaus Mundo will help us to meet the dual challenges of the ecological and social transition alongside the need to balance our budget: we have doubled the size of our sales area, we have doubled the number of staff on re-integration schemes on our traditional activities and we have created new jobs (our objective for the next 5 years is to have 150 staff per year whilst we currently have 50 staff members). We will also be collecting more materials (the number of requests for collection continues to rise from both the general public and from companies), we will have greater sorting capacity and our aim is to reach a re-use rate of 50% (we are currently at 35%) as well as reducing the amount of ultimate waste at this site.

The organisation of our work to prepare for re-use (the majority of the donations we reuse arrive in our sales area) has gradually been changed in order to develop new skills and to increase the amount of re-use and repair within our group. We are currently setting up teams for different sectors, with a technical expert working as the supervisor of the staff teams of people on re-integration schemes. These ‘sector expertise’ teams will take responsibility for the objects after an initial sorting phase and will manage them until they are sold – working on repairing, recycling or reusing these materials.

We asked each staff member to identify their preferred sector (between textiles, furniture, tableware, books, etc.) and to manage the objects from their arrival at the site until they are sold. Thus each member of staff will be involved in sorting, selling and fixing objects, discovering all the different parts of the journey that these objects take within our group. The idea behind this was to build up the skills and the knowledge of the staff members within Emmaus Mundo.

How did you come up with the design and layout of this site, notably for the restaurant? 

We thought about several different things. We thought about practical aspects: what are our needs in terms of sales volumes per shop when compared with our old volumes, what are our needs in terms of storage space and how will people move around within the spaces and between different spaces.

We thought about functionality: choosing the locations of our shops based on the shortest distance between the storage spaces and the sales areas. What types of specific sales tools could we use here?

We thought about visuals and aesthetics: each space will have its own ‘world’. The materials used for the walls differ for each space. The typography used for the signage in each shop have their own graphic identities and are visible from the entrance to the sales area. The layout of the space resembles that of a village – the entrance is an open space, like a public square (with the restaurant) and from here the streets branch off towards the various shops. We opted for a clutter-free look so that the eye is not overly solicited and so that the surfaces of the walls can be used in the future for exhibits. We used old doors in the construction work for some of the shops, we used corrugated iron for our electric goods shop and we used bike frames to make the curved porticos which show where the tills are.

In our sales area the main objective of our solidarity restaurant is to provide access to good quality, healthy and balanced meals to all. We intend this to be a place for living and socialising that is simple, warm and open to all, where we serve good meals at low prices. We are looking to provide a sociable, cheap option where people living in precarity and workers can meet and build relationships during a meal or over a coffee (our restaurant is open from 11am to 5pm). We also intend to use the restaurant as a place to train people and to re-integrate them thanks to the various jobs involved in cooking and catering. We have created the equivalent of 4.5 full-time jobs in the restaurant in order to achieve this goal.

Ecology is at the heart of our movement. How did you make this a sustainable design project?  

Our first thought was to work with recycled materials which we have easy access to (doors, bikes, etc.).

Our second idea was to use locally-sourced wood. This helped us to create a simple, fun look which is modulable and can easily be taken down and reused elsewhere if required.

Also, the lights on the site are all LEDs (both inside and outside) and we focused a lot on the insulation of the building. We installed a heat pump which is highly efficient and uses only small amounts of geothermal energy. We do not use fossil fuels to power this site.

Furthermore, Emmaus Mundo has been leading regular, long-term environmental awareness-raising initiatives amongst various groups since 2019: amongst our staff and our volunteers, and amongst the general public, notably targeting young people. Our association decided to implement a range of activities – theory-focused sessions, practical work and creative workshops (notably using games) – in order to raise awareness amongst these different target groups about how to avoid producing waste, about consumption, about being an eco-citizen, about food waste and about various other ecology-related issues.

To find out more visit https://emmausmundo.com