Imagine if sustainable was just another word for normal. If all cotton grown worldwide was certified organic or grown as part of the Better Cotton Initiative. If all of us made decisions that were in the best interest of each other. If our customers and their families could look and feel good, whilst doing good. If every piece of clothing made ensured that people were treated with dignity and respect, and the environment was protected and eventually restored. As Non-Executive Chairman of C&A Retail and Chief Sustainability Officer, this is our vision for a better future in the apparel industry.
C&A has been in business for 176 years, always aiming to make desirable, affordable clothing widely available. We believe everyone should be able to look and feel good every day. And that’s why we invest heavily in sustainability. It’s part of who we are. We have over 100 million customers, nearly 60,000 employees and over 1 million of our suppliers' workers produce our clothing. We understand the importance of our influence and the responsibility we have to use it positively.
Over the last 15 years, we’ve had a strong focus on sustainability, particularly in the mainstreaming of organic cotton and ensuring safe and fair conditions in our supply chain. This cornerstone commitment to sourcing 100% more sustainable cotton by 2020 has allowed us to make significant impact reductions throughout our supply chain, as well as positively affect the lives of farmers and the people that make our clothing. And we are making good progress. Years of experience as the world’s leading buyer of organic cotton, has meant we’ve rapidly switched to Better Cotton and become the sixth largest global buyer in just one year. These changes allow us to support millions of farmers to live healthier, more secure, sustainable lives, while significantly reducing our impact on the environment.
We’re committed to Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals by 2020 and safe and fair labour conditions through greater transparency. But there’s still more for us, and everyone we work with and reach, to do. From partnering with our suppliers to take proactive ownership of labour issues and the environment, to empowering workers to speak up and voice concerns when they need to. From enabling our customers to do good when they shop with us, by offering products designed and made with their next use in mind. And above all, aiming to promote a culture of transparency, integrity and responsibility, by being open and honest with how our products are made, where our materials are sourced from and who makes them.
A collaborative approach
We can’t do this alone. The challenges facing the apparel industry are too big for any one organisation to solve alone. We need convergence: to be united around common standards, initiatives and organisations, to drive coherence throughout the value chain and measurable progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We must focus on finding and supporting common industry initiatives like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition that create significant change. Bespoke approaches, adopted by different organisations across the industry will only diminish our influence and confuse our suppliers and our customers. By playing our part and welcoming others to join this journey, we can drive a more convergent and cohesive approach we know is necessary.
Transforming the industry
We work closely with C&A Foundation to find the best ways to drive positive change. C&A Foundation aims to transform our entire industry, to make fashion a force for good, so that it works for more than 100 million people who work in the garment industry. Through financial support, sharing industry expertise and providing access to a network of specialists, C&A Foundation supports platforms, NGOs and others changemakers to play their part in creating a fair and sustainable fashion industry. We are uniquely placed to support this work. We have more than 60,000 employees, millions of customers, as well as factories and suppliers across the world. This means C&A Foundation has first-hand insight into the market. It means the foundation's partners have the chance to pilot their initiatives in factories and with suppliers. And, together with our employees, we have the portential to create nearly 60,000 sustainability ambassadors in our retail markets.
Our performance highlights
This report features stories about how we’re working towards systemic change, and the people who are affected by it. Each of our four regions faces different cultural, environmental and social challenges. From freedom of association issues in sourcing countries like Cambodia, to organic cotton sourcing challenges in China and female empowerment in Brazil. Our Inspiring Women campaign was one of the highlights of the year, reaching over 15,800 colleagues across Mexico, Brazil and our sourcing countries and creating unprecedented levels of engagement.
Our Global Sustainability Framework serves as our roadmap toward the ultimate goal of doing more good in our industry. Working closely with C&A Foundation, we have made some humble beginnings towards a shift from a linear to circular model. As the first brand partner with Fashion for Good, we have developed a GOLD level Cradle-to-Cradle Certified T-shirt collection, at scale and across our retail markets. This new approach to designing products for their next life has resulted in a beautiful garment that is durable, can be recycled or if the only option is landfill, the T-shirts can be composted in home compost bins in 11 weeks. This is an industry first, and the first example and highest standard of circularity for the mainstream fashion consumer in the world. But we can do more.
In addition, we are focusing further on how we can advance our sustainable products strategy towards even more sustainable materials with more positive impact, further down the value chain. With 53% of our cotton collection either certified organic or BCI, we will continue our journey toward leadership in cotton, linking our business to cotton farmers, and continually delivering high integrity in the cotton supply chain. Likewise, we are focused on how we can rapidly expand beyond our current work with 111 mills to implement our sustainable chemicals management programme and make significant progress toward zero discharge of hazardous chemicals.
Lastly, we know that we have a highly engaged workforce across all of our retail markets. To leverage their passion, we will continually create ways to engage them around sustainability issues, so they can truly become ambassadors of our brand in ways that help our customers make more sustainable decisions.
The future: a new normal
As industry leaders, we feel proud to be supported by C&A colleagues as we work towards this vision of the new normal. They’re our greatest asset. This vision will require leading by example. We’re taking some bold steps and working with the right people, organisations and initiatives to lay the groundwork for significant change.
To create a truly circular and convergent apparel industry – where fashion with a positive impact is the new normal – we must be in this together.
Jeffrey Hogue, Chief Sustainability Officer, C&A Global
Edward K. Brenninkmeijer, Non Executive Chairman, C&A Retail. Chairman Global Sustainability Board. Chairman C&A Foundation Board.