Our large supply chain touches the lives of many people and every one of those people has the right to work in safe and fair conditions. We actively seek out issues that may take advantage of a worker’s dignity or human rights, and take a zero-tolerance approach when we find them. Thankfully, as our supply chain has become more sophisticated and we have increased our partnership with suppliers, we find fewer and fewer cases each year.
No workers under the age of 16
Last year we raised the required minimum age of workers in our supply chain to follow the recommendations in the ETI base code and in line with the ILO standards. All workers must be at least 16 years to be present or work in a suppliers’ production area. If young workers — defined as 16 to 18 years old — are hired, suppliers must comply with all relevant legal requirements, including work hour restrictions, hazardous work restrictions and health checks.
To investigate the risks of child labour in the cotton supply chain in Turkey, the Fair Labour Association and the Development Workshop Cooperative (a civil society organisation based in Turkey) collaborated during 2016 on a pilot project to trace the supply chains of C&A and another six multi-national companies doing business in the Netherlands. The findings are available here.
Supporting victims of underage labour
If underage labour is identified in our supply chain, the individual is removed from the factory immediately. To remediate these situations, suppliers are required to pay the minimum wage until he/she reaches the legal minimum age. To discourage the underage person from seeking a job elsewhere, monthly payments are disbursed until he/she reaches a legal age.
We also require that the supplier provides families with compensation for health screening, transportation funds, and accommodation for a child’s relatives to return him/her to the home. If the child is willing to attend lessons, suppliers must pay their school fees until the child meets the legal minimum working age. At this point, the individual should be given the opportunity to be re-employed.
This year, we detected nine incidents of underage workers: four in China, three in Turkey, one in Tunisia and one in Mexico. In all cases the workers were close to the minimum age of 16. Nonetheless, we handled each situation with care and in accordance with our remediation process. We work closely with the suppliers and local NGOs to ensure that the case is clearly resolved and the underage workers are supported through the process.
Who we work with
We partner with local non-governmental organisations like the Centre for Child-Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility (CCR CSR) in China and South East Asia, Sheva in Bangladesh, and Çagdas Yasami Destekleme Dernegi (the Association for the Support of Contemporary Living) in Turkey, to ensure that underaged workers are supported and that we follow through the process of remediation.
Hidden out of sight and often out of reach, the Global Slavery Index estimates that 45.8 million people are trapped in situations of modern day slavery.
Forced labour thrives in areas where there are severe social and economic inequalities, opaque business practices, weak rule of law, and high demand for cheap labour. To put an end to this, we work with C&A Foundation to challenge deep-seated cultural and social norms and improve transparency within our supply chain.
Eradicating forced, bonded or compulsory labour
Safe and fair labour practices mean that people must be free to make their own choices. Workers must be entitled to freedom of employment and movement. Work must be voluntary, and all forms of bonded, indentured, or prison labour are prohibited. Suppliers and labour brokers must not restrict the freedom of employment of workers and workers should be free to refuse performing certain tasks that are hazardous. Our Supplier Code of Conduct lays out our full list of requirements.
If any form of bonded, indentured, or prison labour is identified in our supply chain, we terminate the relationship with the production unit immediately and the supplier will be disciplined. By taking a tough stance, we hope to educate suppliers and improve conditions for workers.
Read our Supplier Code of Conduct here
In 2016, we detected eight cases: two in Myanmar, two in Brazil and four in China. The cases in Brazil and Myanmar were related to retention of ID cards by the factory and all four cases in China were related to workers not being permitted to leave the factory premises after their normal shift. Five cases were resolved, one relationship has been terminated and two cases are still pending corrective action.
Europe is experiencing one of the most significant influxes of migrants and refugees in its history. Civil war and terror in the Middle East and Africa means a large number of people are in search of a better life, risking their lives along the way. Among the forces driving people to make the dangerous journey are the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The majority – more than 80% – of those who reach Europe by boat in 2015 originate from those three countries [SOURCE: The Migrant Project].
Supporting migrant workers and refugees
Our approach to this crisis is exemplified in how we have recently supported the Syrian refugees in Turkey. Turkey is the world’s largest recipient of refugees, hosting two and a half million displaced Syrian refugees [SOURCE: Vox].
The country can suffer from low wages, poor labour standards, informal and unregulated working arrangements; harassment of female workers and challenges to the right to Freedom of Association make working conditions hard. This is all exacerbated by the Syrian refugee crisis.
We’ve been actively working with Ethical Trading Initiative, Fair Labor Association, and other brands to ask the government of Turkey for a process that would enable refugees to receive legal permission to work, a process which was finally enacted in January 2016.
Throughout 2016, we have continued emphasising our policy on illegal migrant workers, conducting unannounced audits across Turkey, including close to the Syrian border as part of our ongoing due diligence process. We developed concrete steps to support production units, such as raising awareness about the new employment regulations for Syrian refugees and how to implement them.