Safe and fair labour Safe and dignified work for all

We believe that safe and fair working conditions should be the norm for all garment workers, not just the ones that work in our suppliers' factories. That’s why we are using our influence to build capacity across our supply chain, striving to normalise good practices and to create convergence with other brands and multi stakeholder initiatives. We were one of the first apparel companies to institute a Supplier Code of Conduct in 1995, and have forged long-term relationships with many of our suppliers to build trust. 

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Events this year have underlined how important it is to continue to seek out and eradicate practices such as excessive overtime, undisclosed subcontracting, low wages or restrictions to freedom of association. We have defined the top four challenges faced by our suppliers and created long-term engagement strategies for each challenge. We work in partnership with other leading organisations and NGOs to drive change across the industry.

Supplier and worker engagement

Protecting the most vulnerable

C&A partnerships working on safe and fair labour

Collaboration or partnershipSinceRole
Action, Collaboration, Transformation2015Founding member
Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety2013Steering committee member
Sustainable Apparel Coalition2010Founding member/Chair of the Board
Human Rights Watch ­Transparency Pledge2017Signatory
Dutch Covenant2016Member
UN Global Compact2015Signatory
SAC Social & Labour Convergence Project2016Member
Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (Textilbündnis)2015Member
CCR CSR2015Member
Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)2012Member
Forum for the Future2012Member
Global Social Compliance Programme2008Member


Our top four labour issues

Four complex issues requiring long-term engagement

Over the past several years we have identified four priority challenges that significantly affect the working conditions in our supply chain. These issues are complex and usually interconnected in the unique contexts of the various countries that we source our products from. Because of this, it takes time, collective action, influence and partnerships to deliver sustainable change. 

Over the past year, we’ve focused on building capacity, tackling those issues where our business decisions have the greatest impact and identifying areas of convergence with other industry partners. We have also started to look more closely into our own buying practices to analyse the best approaches for the best eventual outcomes.  These challenges are not in any specific order of importance.

Challenge 1 - Building and fire safety

Challenge 2 - Freedom of association

Challenge 3 - Undisclosed production

Challenge 4 - Working hours and compensation

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Challenge 1: Building and fire safety

Building capacity on fire, building and electrical safety

A lack of fire safety precautions in apparel production units has claimed the lives of thousands of people in Bangladesh in the last 10 years. It is a fundamental right of all workers to have a safe and healthy work environment. Our Supplier Code of Conduct includes robust requirements for building construction, fire protection, and emergency preparedness, which we have learned from our work with the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Although we have shown leadership by maintaining a leading brand status in remediation of fire and building safety issues in Bangladesh, we apply the same level of rigour in all factories and in all sourcing countries globally.


Significant education gaps

Fire and building safety are complex topics with engineering and technical aspects that are beyond the internal knowledge of an apparel factory. Bringing many of our suppliers up to standard has required partnership, leading to significant actions at the factory level. For instance, educating and upskilling the workforce and refitting locations with fire resistant features. Often, these upgrades are costly or require significant time and resource commitments to achieve.   

Availability of fire and safety components

Many of the Corrective Action Plans require special fire and safety components to be fitted such as certified fire doors. In many cases there are limitations to the availability of approved equipment in sourcing countries and the availability of technically competent installers and retrofitters. This challenge can often lead to delays in the implementation of corrective actions.

Levels of expertise

To assess these issues at the factory level, advanced vocational training and/or engineering degrees are required. In many of the sourcing countries, there is a lack of a competent talent pool to support the identification and remediation plan development, requiring costly consultant support. 

How we’re responding

Supporting our suppliers

Normalising a high standard of fire safety requires significant effort from us and our suppliers. We work closely with them to understand the implications of new requirements and support them as they implement improvements. With our input, factories can access the necessary skills and tools to implement fire and building safety programmes and management systems. We also assess their capability of implementing the changes from a capital or resource standpoint. When the need arises for financing support we create the necessary connections.


Our Supplier Code of Conduct was updated in 2015 to include additional extensive requirements for fire and building safety throughout our supply chain. We inspect all of our factories and require them to have legal documentation in place for each of their buildings, including dormitories, canteens and warehouses. As one of the first brands to apply standards learned from our experience in Bangladesh, we take the responsibility of supporting our suppliers through these improvements seriously. Legal documentation is checked and buildings undergo regular safety inspections to ensure improvements are implemented to the highest standard.

Legal documentation

C&A suppliers are also required to maintain adequate insurance that covers workers for any injuries, accidents, or death. This applies to all work done on site and should also, when stipulated by law, include contractors, temporary, and part-time workers.

Case study

Improving building and fire safety in Bangladesh

It has been four years since the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, in which more than 1,100 garment workers lost their lives.

C&A was one of the first brands to sign the Bangladesh Accord with 220 brands, international unions and NGOs, as a response to the disaster. The Accord is an independent, legally-binding agreement, designed to create a safe and healthy Bangladeshi ready-made garment industry. It aims to create a working environment in which no worker needs to fear fire, building collapse, or other accidents that could be prevented through health and safety measures, as well as ensuring the right to refuse unsafe work. We’ve played an active role in the steering committee since its inception.

Since 2013, all 137 of C&A's suppliers’ cut-and-sew factories in Bangladesh have been inspected and Corrective Action Plans have been developed for each of them. To support the complex and highly technical aspects of the corrective actions, we developed a strong team in Bangladesh to support remediation by providing technical expertise. We’ve also arranged training sessions, where Accord engineers have shared their knowledge with suppliers.

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To date, 86% of the issues identified across C&A’s operations have been corrected, up from 83% in 2015. All CAPs are now in the process of remediation, compared to 2015, when 17% were still outstanding*. We are pleased to be among the leading brands in delivering closure to these corrective actions in Bangladesh. Our goal is to finalise all corrective actions in 2017.

*Official data from the Accord may vary because they must verify the corrective actions before their numbers gradually match ours.



Additional support to victims of the Tazreen fire

We remain deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries caused by the tragic fire at Tazreen Fashion in Bangladesh, a factory that supplied C&A Brazil, in November 2012. In the aftermath, C&A Foundation provided immediate financial support to the families of all 112 people killed and established a fund to provide ongoing support to 49 adult dependents. Working with Caritas Bangladesh, C&A Foundation created a rehabilitation programme to help survivors find a new path in life. C&A Foundation also launched the Tazreen Claims Administration Trust (TCA) alongside the Clean Clothes Campaign and IndustriALL Global Union in 2015, to help survivors and the families of victims gain access to adequate compensation.

The TCA finalised its work in 2016, completing the compensation payments to the victims of the fire. In total, approximately US$2.17 million was paid out to all the impacted families and the workers injured in the fire.

Read more about the outcomes of the TCA here

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Challenge 2: Freedom of association

Enabling worker organisation and collective bargaining

Worker organisation and collective bargaining is fundamental to improving labour conditions across the apparel supply chain and in our sourcing countries. Freedom of association remains an important focus of our strategy to amplify workers’ voices, encourage a dialogue with management, and to advance the performance of our suppliers' factories overall. 


Overcoming legal restrictions

Some countries, such as China, restrict collective bargaining by law. In these cases we expect our suppliers to help workers establish alternative forms of worker representation and negotiation. We also expect our suppliers to establish, implement, and communicate a grievance mechanism that is accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent, rights-compatible, confidential, and based on engagement and dialogue to resolve internal disputes and employee complaints. Freedom of association is tested as part of our auditing process and violations are a zero-tolerance issue.


In 2016, we detected three cases where freedom of association was not respected in our supply chain. Of the three cases, two were found in Cambodia and one in Turkey.  To remediate these incidents, our local teams, with support from Global Sustainability and Sustainable Supply Chain (SSC) sourcing hubs, have worked closely with our suppliers, the workers’ representatives and international trade unions to address each of the issues individually. Two of the cases were resolved with mutual satisfaction of workers, management and the labour unions. One case remains in the process of remediation at the time of this report.

How we’re responding

Fair resolution

When freedom of association issues are discovered through auditing, union allegations, strikes or via our Fairness Channel compliance hotline, we take decisive action to work together with the proper groups to resolve the issue, ensure the fair treatment of workers and implement the necessary safeguards to avoid being repeated in the future. Where necessary, we will support the reinstatement of workers dismissed unfairly, or ask for compensation or support.

Read more our values and the Fairness Channel

Case study

GoodWeave: Combating child labour and other abuse in embroidered garment supply chains

Hand-embroidered items are one of India’s main contributions to the global apparel market. Workers often work in home settings, making it difficult to monitor working conditions. Home working is allowed in our supply chain only if suppliers follow C&A Guidelines for the Use of Home Workers, which is adapted from the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) guidelines.

This year, C&A Foundation and C&A embarked on a project to eradicate human and labour rights abuse in the embroidered garment supply chain.

The NGO GoodWeave envisions a world where all children are sent to school and not to work; in which adults have rights, dignity and opportunities in the workplace. They have been effective in reaching their goal: child labour in South Asia’s carpet industry has declined by an estimated 80% since their work began there. The effectiveness of their work is based on the successful implementation of a traceability system, monitoring standard and improved social infrastructure in the home working communities.

Together with C&A Foundation, we have commissioned a two-year pilot project with GoodWeave in Uttar Pradesh, India. The goals are to find an approach for the apparel industry as successful as the carpet industry model, with fully engaged suppliers, provide educational support to those too young to be working and ensure that all adults are working in safe and fair conditions. The current pilot is with three apparel producers in five communities, supporting 7,500 home workers and 6,000 children within and beyond C&A supply chains. 

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Child Friendly Community (CFC) programmes, which ensure children are enrolled in schools, are now established in three project communities in India: Kanwara, Tilbegumpur and Jaee. Where this is not possible, children are enrolled into informal bridging schools known as Motivation and Learning Centres (MLCs) to help them reach the standard they need to enroll in private or government schools. As of January 2017, 750 children were attending Motivation and Learning Centres and 243 children have been enrolled in school. 

There have been some challenges securing support from suppliers in the project communities. Therefore, the pilot has been expanded to workers outside the project communities with work in 2017 concentrating on reaching them. GoodWeave has also commenced its standard development work and is refining the structure of its original standard. Pilot inspections were conducted in early 2017.

The pilot is already shedding light on the economic hardships faced by home workers, but securing access to our full supply chains remains a key challenge. Similar to the carpet industry, suppliers are more engaged and the mapping is more successful when several brands push for participation and transparency together. GoodWeave has invited additional apparel producers and NGOs to engage and are currently in discussion with several well-known, high street brands. This year, Giuliana Ortega, Head of Instituto C&A Brazil, visited the Indian project and was inspired to start work on replicating the project in Brazil.

We are encouraged by the results of the approach to problem solving, engaging with home workers in their home environment and communities, instead of simply working with their direct employers. 

Read more about our initiative with GoodWeave and C&A Foundation

Championing worker representation

Our Supplier Code of Conduct requires our suppliers to adopt an open and collaborative attitude towards worker representation, allow workers to form or join trade unions of their own choosing, and to bargain collectively. In 2015, three of our suppliers' factories in Cambodia piloted the Dialogue for Change programme. The programme aims to improve dialogue between managers and workers and to provide workers with a means to raise concerns and grievances to management.

Read more about the social dialogue programme in Cambodia

In addition, we are participating in the ACT Initiative, which we believe will play a key role in assuring living wages in the supplier countries through the creation of national industry-wide collective bargaining processes.


Empowering workers

When workers and management communicate well, they are more likely to collectively support a healthy work environment. Workers need to know their rights and responsibilities and have channels through which they can raise concerns. C&A is committed to helping our suppliers provide workers with safe and effective ways to raise concerns and grievances. For 10 years, our compliance hotline, the Fairness Channel, has helped us identify issues that arise in our offices, stores, or supply chain. We aim to support fairness and transparency in our way of working with our employees and suppliers. 

Read more about how we empower workers here

Learn more about our values

Round tables on freedom of association in Cambodia

In 2016, C&A held four round table discussions on the issues of freedom of association, focusing on building healthy labour/management issues, involving key stakeholders and one third of our Cambodian suppliers. Through these round table discussions, we have already seen changes start to happen, including the following outcomes:

  • Improved supplier knowledge of the local legislation. 
  • Increased understanding of the role of trade unions.
  • Improved means to address conflicts between management and worker representatives.


Going forward, we plan to expand these supplier round tables to other sourcing countries and to incorporate other best practices.

Case study

Freedom of association in Cambodia

Recent years have seen unrest in the Cambodian garment industry. Protesters have taken to the streets, clashing with security forces and union leaders have been dismissed as they planned to organise strikes.

Unions described a repression of worker’s rights by company management and anti-union crackdowns. In December 2014, a supplier, Ginwin, terminated or suspended five union leaders of the Cambodian Union Movement of Workers (CUMW) after a strike that became violent. We heard evidence of harassment of union representatives and that these unions were asked to cease their activities within the enterprise and participate in a company union.

Despite the harassment, union leaders continued to represent and collectively bargain on behalf of their members. As part of this, CUMW commenced a strike to bargain for increased benefits. After a week of striking, Ginwin sought legal advice and terminated or suspended the leaders, a clear violation of our Code of Conduct.

An intense mediation process then occurred, involving parties including ILO and IndustriALL and an independent local mediator. An agreement was finally reached in October 2016, outlining the following clauses:

  • Withdrawal of all remaining open court cases against the five workers. 
  • Back payment of all lost wages.
  • Lump sum payments to the five workers for the inability to reinstate them.


Additionally, IndustriALL and C&A decided to jointly monitor the implementation of the international labour standards in Cambodia. As a first step, Ginwin will participate in an Industrial Relations programme, which aims to strengthen workers’ voices and ensure compliance with the C&A Code of Conduct in terms of freedom of association and collective bargaining.

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Challenge 3: Undisclosed production

Preventing unauthorised production

Although not often detected, for C&A unauthorised production is when we identify a production unit that has not been previously approved for production. As we cannot verify that the factory is in alignment with our Code of Conduct and our environmental and social requirements, it constitutes a serious violation. We require that each new PU is audited and meets the requirements of our Code of Conduct before orders are placed.


The detection of undisclosed production requires ongoing vigilance due to the complexity of the global supply chain. It’s one of the reasons that we disclose our first and second tier factories. By being transparent on where our products are produced, we can create accountability for us and our suppliers when undisclosed production is used.

In 2016, we detected 13 cases of undisclosed subcontracting and one case of unauthorised home working in our supply chain. Because we consider these violations to be serious, in several situations sanctions were placed against the supplier or factory. In all cases, a thorough investigation was conducted and a corrective action plan was put in place with the supplier and our internal teams.

Read more on how we rate our suppliers and our commitment to transparency

Browse our supplier list here

How are we responding?

Clear expectations and serious consequences

If unauthorised production is identified, the SSC and quality teams assess the situation and the production unit. Because the circumstances behind the cases are sometimes complex, the team thoroughly investigates the situation, the intentions, and utilises a systematic process to determine the consequences.

Three-strike process

In 2016 we rolled out a new three-strike policy to mitigate the risk of undisclosed production units, such as home working. Additionally, if a zero-tolerance item is found on inspection, a supplier can be suspended for 12 months or terminated, depending on the results of the investigation. Simply, if undisclosed production is detected and the PU meets the requirements of our Code of Conduct and quality standards, the supplier will receive a warning on the first instance, leading to suspension for 12 months or termination after the third instance. In all cases, if a zero-tolerance finding is detected at the undisclosed production unit, the supplier will be suspended for 12 months.

To create accountability and understanding of our requirements around undisclosed subcontracting, we informed our entire supply base and have regular interactions on the subject during our audit process.

Challenge 4 - Working hours and compensation

Working to live

For garment workers in markets such as Bangladesh, a long working week can be normal: we acknowledge the various factors that can cause this to happen and are working to change practices to ensure that all workers work a maximum of 60 hours per week or less. Our Supplier Code of Conduct stipulates that working hours may not exceed 60 hours in any seven-day period, except in truly exceptional, unforeseeable circumstances. Moreover, workers need to be fairly compensated for the hard work they do.

Through supplier training and regular auditing, our supplier partners are aware of the requirement to comply with national laws, collective bargaining agreements, and the elements of the ETI base code around maximum working hours, overtime pay and rest days. They are also aware of the need to compensate workers for overtime in a timely manner. To maintain a safe and comfortable workplace, workers must also be allowed to take breaks, have at least one day off in every seven-day period and be eligible for statutory holidays. To detect and address potential non-conformances with these requirements, our suppliers regularly assess, mitigate, and monitor workplace hazards to minimise injury risks that are specifically related to long hours.

Read more on how we rate our suppliers


Through our experience, we recognise that our buying and sourcing practices may affect how our suppliers plan for production and can have significant impacts on working hours.  Last minute changes in design, production or delivery timings may inadvertently exacerbate this issue. Aside from this, we have also experienced that suppliers may not adequately plan for production, leading to challenges in staffing levels to deliver the orders on time. Other factors like workers needing to attain additional compensation to support their families, and situations where factory management may intentionally misrepresent actual working hours to avoid business impacts, make this particular issue very challenging.  Lastly, there is a general lack of wage law enforcement by local governments, requiring the brands to do most of the checking.

For many years, we have required our suppliers and their factories to compensate workers by paying wages that meet or exceed legal minimum and/or industry benchmark standards, whichever is higher. Even so, it’s still not uncommon to find that the overtime premium is not paid. In some cases, workers are being compensated by productivity – by the number of pieces made – instead of hourly at a premium rate.

How are we responding?

Many workers want or need to maximise their pay, so reductions in work hours can only benefit them if wages increase to balance this loss in hours. Therefore, we embarked on a journey to identify and overcome the barriers to these tensions through a multi-stakeholder approach with other brands and the ACT Foundation for 'Action, Collaboration and Transformation'. The ACT initiative seeks to increase wages for workers across the apparel industry by promoting industry-wide collective bargaining agreements in all of the most important sourcing countries. Going forward, we will work through the ACT process with factories to increase their efficiency and productivity, leading to the partial compensation for reduced working hours.

Accurate tracking and adequate remuneration

Transparency on working practices is of utmost importance; it allows us to monitor performance across our supply chain. Over the past three years, we have emphasised the need for transparency with our suppliers and their production units. Suppliers must use reliable time recording systems, where all regular hours, overtime hours and breaks are accurately tracked. Our SSC development officers help factory management understand these requirements and work with them to ensure the accuracy of these records.


Ensuring appropriate payment and training

Whenever a piece-rate wage is used, suppliers must demonstrate that these payments are at least equivalent to the minimum wage or a collective bargaining is in place. This is supported by a written wage and compensation policy that is communicated to workers through employee handbooks, notice boards, letters, regular meetings or other means. They must also provide training to all workers and subcontractors. These measures increase transparency and empower workers, while helping us to more easily identify the issues.

Read more about our supplier ownership programme

Better planning to eliminate excessive working hours

In December 2016, we approved a pilot programme to work on solving the root causes of excessive working hours with six key suppliers in China and Bangladesh. Because we recognise that excessive working hours are exacerbated by production efficiency, purchasing practices and worker voices, we are incorporating elements of ACT into our approach.

The ultimate goal of this programme is to create goals and action plans in partnership with our suppliers to eliminate excessive working hours and low wages, while increasing workers’ participation in labour/management dialogue and increasing production efficiency.

Case study

ACT: Assuring living wages for workers

ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation) is made up of 18 international brands and the international labour union, IndustriALL. Its members are bound by a common objective: to assure living wages for garment and textile workers by promoting industry-wide collective bargaining agreements in all of the most important sourcing countries. C&A has been part of ACT, as a founding member, since its inception.

To achieve our objective of living wages in apparel production, we cannot simply ask our suppliers to pay their workers more. The issue requires a holistic approach that tackles the root causes and challenges of the issue. For this reason, the brands involved in ACT are focusing on four elements that can have a positive effect on outcomes at the factory level:

  • Establishing programmes for industry-wide collective bargaining – which can lead to improved worker participation and voice to influence practices and conditions.
  • Defining and developing responsible purchasing practices for the garment and textile industry – which can lead to better planning and anticipation of the issues that may lead to excessive working hours.
  • Developing a complementary programme for world-class manufacturing standards – which will lead to higher production efficiency and as a result less hours will need to be worked.
  • Actively engage the countries’ governments into the conversations – to support advocacy and national wage review processes.


In its first phase of operation, ACT has concentrated on establishing the groundwork for the organisation, developing its strategic framework and gaining support from bodies including the ILO, UN, investors and civil society. Phase two is currently focused on the effective delivery of the organisational and collective aims.

With the recent appointment of the Executive Director, six working groups were formed in the areas of: Strategy, Purchasing Practices, World Class Manufacturing, Communications, Budget Management and Cambodia.

In 2017, we will employ the four aforementioned principles in practice with suppliers selected by all participating brands in Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Turkey.

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