Protecting the most vulnerable Safeguarding human rights

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. 

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Eradicating underage labour

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.

Modern day slavery

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.

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Case study

Taking steps to abolish Sumangali in India

Sumangali is a form of bonded labour practiced in some tier 3 suppliers in parts of India. The practice violates international labour standards and the human rights of women. Women are given three-year contracts, often in unacceptable working and living conditions, with the promise of a bulk payment that will cover their dowry to get married. However, their wages are often held back, if they receive them at all, and they are not allowed to leave or return to their homes.

We first became aware of this illegal system in 2007. Since then, we have been working to eradicate it from our supply chain, regularly inspecting our direct suppliers – with an emphasis on spinning mills – to ensure that the bonded labour practices and curfews have been discontinued.

We have joined the Tamil Nadu multi-stakeholder initiative’s Nalam Programme, a year-long peer learning programme created by the Ethical Trading Initiative to educate young female workers about their rights and responsibilities within mills. So far, four of our mill suppliers from Tamil Nadu have signed up for the training programme and a further two are in the process of joining. In 2016, we will increase collaboration with stakeholders to further address this issue.

To support the eradication of Sumangali, C&A Foundation has been working for several years to address the root causes of the issue, beginning with a three-year project run by Terres des Hommes.

C&A Foundation is also working to prevent vulnerable girls and young women from entering the system in the first place. In 2015, C&A Foundation made a €2.4 million grant to the Freedom Fund, the world’s first private donor fund dedicated to ending modern slavery.

Read more about C&A Foundation's work on Sumangali

Responding to the refugee crisis

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. 

Case study

Eradicating slave labour with InPACTO

Bolivian and Paraguayan migrants often enter Brazil hoping to find jobs and a better life, but with little idea about their labour rights. C&A Brazil and the Brazilian wing of C&A Foundation, Instituto C&A, play an important role in making sure those workers know their rights, helping to defend them where necessary.

C&A Brazil is a founding member of InPACTO, the National Institute for the Eradication of Slave Labour, which now has 51 corporate members. InPACTO was created in 2013 to encourage the private sector and civil society organisations to work together to eradicate slave labour. The initiative helps ensure that companies who have signed the National Pact Against Slavery keep their word and encourages policy-making to eliminate forced labour.

In 2016, we worked with local NGO partner, Missão Paz, to help 7,258 immigrant workers obtain the documents they need to work and live legally in Brazil. Instituto C&A also partnered with non-profit centre Centro de Apoio e Pastoral do Migrante, that supports immigrants. Together, they helped 3,049 immigrants register as Brazilian residents and made 906 visits to factories and homes to provide advice on social welfare and labour conditions issues. Legal counsel was also given to over 500 workers, ensuring they received the help they needed to defend their labour rights. 

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