At C&A, we believe normal should be just another word for sustainable. We want our customers to trust us to do the right thing, so they can buy our products without having to worry about how they were made.
In 2015, we developed a global strategy with goals for 2020 that would embed sustainability across our business. This has allowed us to drive a centralised global strategy, while supporting flexibility in how the goals are met in our retail markets to meet customer needs and to drive innovation. This approach also applies to our involvement in industry initiatives and sustainability programmes – we want to amplify our contribution by fully supporting the largest and most credible initiatives.
To achieve our vision of fashion with a positive impact, our sustainability work is focused on areas that are the most relevant for our business and where we can have the biggest impact – our products, our supply chain and people’s lives.
We don’t want our customers to have to choose between what’s sustainable and what’s not. This is one reason why sustainability is an integral part of how we design and source our clothing. We focus on sustainable materials – cotton especially; on ensuring that our clothing has been sourced and made in a way that respects people, the environment and animals; and on pioneering circular fashion models.
To succeed in our goals, we have to go beyond our business. Our work is designed to inspire and enable actors across our industry to embrace a sustainable approach.
Our supply chain is complex: encompassing around 1 million people, employed through 788 global suppliers, with more than 2,400 production units - representing 90% of our impacts. We always look to prioritise where we can have the most impact, with suppliers where we have the strongest relationships and with established industry partners.
We focus on two main areas where we know we can have the most impact: ensuring we leave a clean environment behind us, and working to ensure that those who make our clothes work in safe conditions and are treated fairly.
C&A is a global retail fashion company that touches the lives of around 60,000 employees, 1 million factory workers and 100 million customers each year. What we do and the way we do it has a large impact on many different groups of people – we focus on strengthening communities, promoting positive actions and giving back to local communities.
Defining our material issues
We developed our current sustainability strategy in 2015, which involved a detailed materiality assessment. The four steps involved in the development of our strategy are summarised below and are covered in more depth in last year’s report.
Research: We interviewed 40 key stakeholders, including development experts, researchers, and business leaders. We reviewed our historical sustainability performance, data from our Life Cycle Assessment and research generated by customer interviews and focus groups.
Value chain impacts: We worked with external experts to develop a Life Cycle Assessment model to fully understand the water and carbon footprint of our value chain. We also determined our social impacts through our Sustainable Supply Chain programmes and our human rights impact assessment.
Exploration: To determine those areas where we could make the biggest impact, we evaluated the success of existing C&A sustainability programmes and forecast industry trends over a 15-year period. Key initiatives like the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights informed this exploration.
Strategy: Using our material issues as an input, we developed our integrated sustainability strategy. It has three pillars: Sustainable Products, Sustainable Supply, and Sustainable Lives. We strive to address and include all material issues within our sustainability framework. Other issues, such as quality, product safety and responsible marketing remain part of our core business approach.
We are continuously reviewing and developing our material issues and our strategies for addressing them. This ongoing review is based on our progress towards our goals, and the changing conditions of the world around us. In 2016, a number of incidents occurred in our supply chain – including union uprisings in Bangladesh, issues with Freedom of Association in Cambodia and Myanmar, and underage workers in China, Mexico, Tunisia and Turkey. C&A's minimum eligible age is 16 and corresponds with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards. In Turkey, for example, the incident was legally permitted but an infringement of the C&A Supplier Code of Conduct.
Although these issues are infrequent and isolated, we strive to use what we learn from them to continually improve our strategy and focus areas over time.