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 becomes more sophisticated and we increase our partnership with suppliers, we find fewer and fewer cases each year. 


Eradicating underage labour

No workers under the age of 16

In 2015, 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 International Labor Organization (ILO) standards. All workers must be at least 16 years to be present or work in a supplier’s production area. If young workers (aged 16 to 18) are hired, suppliers must comply with all relevant legal requirements, including work hour restrictions, hazardous work restrictions and health checks.

Supporting victims of underage labour

If underage labour is identified in our supply chain, the child is removed from the factory immediately. To discourage them from seeking a job elsewhere, monthly payments equal to the minimum wage, funded by the supplier, are disbursed until they reach the legal minimum working age. At this point, the individual should be given the opportunity to be re-employed.

We also require that the supplier provides families with compensation for health screening, transportation funds and accommodation for a child’s relatives to return them to the home. If the child is willing to attend lessons, the supplier must pay their school fees until the child meets the legal minimum working age.


In 2017, we detected three incidents of underage workers in China, Myanmar and Tunisia. In a majority of these cases, workers were close to the minimum age of 16. Nonetheless, we handled each situation with care and in accordance with our remediation process, including working closely with the suppliers and local civil society to ensure that the case was clearly resolved and that the underage workers were supported through the process.

The children found in Myanmar and Tunisia are both now in education. We are making sure that they are receiving proper local support, including the provision of a monthly income to their families by the factory in which the children were employed.


In the case in China, C&A had already outsourced the whole category and no longer had a commercial relationship with the supplier. We are looking into how to address such exceptional cases where we do not have the necessary leverage to drive change.

Who we work with

We partner with local NGOs 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 underage workers are supported and that we follow through the process of remediation. In other production countries, we are seeking NGOs that can better support the needs of children and follow the remediation process. In the meantime, our local teams take the responsibility to ensure that the remediation process is fulfilled.

Modern day slavery

Hidden out of sight and often out of reach, an estimated 45.8 million people are trapped in situations of modern day slavery [SOURCE: Global Slavery Index].

Forced labour thrives in areas where there is high social and economic inequality, 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 to perform certain hazardous tasks. 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 our relationship with the production unit immediately and the supplier is disciplined. By taking such a tough stance, we hope to educate suppliers and improve conditions for workers.

In 2017, we detected no cases of forced, bonded or compulsory labour in our supply chain.

C&A was recognised for our leadership in preventing forced and bonded labour by the Thomson Reuters Foundation with the 2017 Stop Slavery Award.

Read more about the Stop Slavery Award

Supporting cotton workers in our supply chain

Cotton makes up 57% of the materials we buy and use at C&A. Around the world it supports the livelihoods of 250 million people [SOURCE: BCI]. Growing cotton is resource intensive, and forced and bonded labour has remained a key challenge for the industry.

C&A is committed to sourcing 100% more sustainable cotton by 2020, and in 2017 we sourced 67% of our cotton to this standard. Buying organic cotton has a direct positive impact on the health and safety of farming communities who are no longer exposed to hazardous chemicals. We also work closely with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which has a strong focus on promoting decent work.

We also have a history of taking concrete steps to support cotton workers when required. In 2007, we signed the Cotton Pledge against forced labour, committing to end the practice of forced labour in the cotton sector in Uzbekistan. In practice, we banned the use of Uzbek cotton by our suppliers when the Government forced adults and children to grow and harvest cotton, violating their human rights.

Read more about our commitment to more sustainable cotton


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 are discontinued.

In 2017, we joined the second phase (2018-2022) of the Tamil Nadu multi-stakeholder initiative’s Nalam Programme, a five-year learning programme created by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) to educate young female workers about their rights and responsibilities within mills. In the past year, we have been working with three approved spinning mills in Tamil Nadu. Two of those have been enrolled in the programme. As we constantly work towards assessing and verifying more vertically integrated spinning mills in our supply chain, we aim to involve all of the newly-approved mills in the second phase of the programme.

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.

We have also taken steps to address forced labour in South India. We are engaged in the Amsterdam Coalition, an initiative of major global brands and retailers that aims to contribute to the prevention and mitigation of harmful impacts on spinning mill workers in Tamil Nadu. The OECD is supporting this initiative and providing technical assistance as part of its sector work on due diligence and responsible business conduct within the garment and footwear sector.

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. Since then, C&A Foundation has awarded €6.2m to the Freedom Fund to combat Sumangali and to strengthen protections against forced and child labour at the state and national levels.


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

Responding to the global refugee crisis

Europe has experienced 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 went in search of a better life, risking their lives along the way. Among the forces driving people to make the dangerous journey were the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. By the end of 2016, the majority – more than 55% – of all refugees worldwide had migrated from just those three countries [SOURCE: UNHCR]. 

Supporting migrant workers and refugees

Our approach to the refugee crisis is exemplified in how we have recently supported Syrian refugees in Turkey. For a third consecutive year, Turkey is the world’s largest recipient of refugees, hosting 2.9 million refugees, mainly coming from Syria [SOURCE: UNHCR]. 

The country’s workers routinely suffer from low wages, weak enforcement of labour standards, informal and unregulated working arrangements, gender violence and challenges to the right to freedom of association, making working conditions hard. This is all exacerbated by the Syrian refugee crisis.

Our teams on the ground have been actively participating in key initiatives in order to provide better solutions and safeguards for the Syrian refugee workforce in the garment industry, together with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and Fair Labor Association (FLA).

Protection of these vulnerable workers and their right to work is paramount. C&A was one of the very first 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. We have also developed a booklet in collaboration with FLA, that helps refugees understand how to apply for a job in Turkey and what to expect in terms of workers’ rights and how to defend them

Even though we have observed no illegal refugees in our Turkish supply chain in 2017, we have continued our unannounced audit protocol for every production unit in order to ensure that no workers are abused. In 2018 and beyond, we will continue to support Syrian refugees in Turkey, taking part in initiatives to help recruitment, raise awareness and support social integration.

Read about our support of refugees from Myanmar

Case study

Working in partnership to guarantee labour rights

Migrants from Angola, Bolivia, Haiti and Venezuela 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 was the first fashion retailer in Brazil to sign the National Pact for the Eradication of Slave Labour and today is a member of InPACTO, the National Institute for the Eradication of Slave Labour, which now has more than 50 associated organisations.


In 2017, we continued to work with Missão Paz, our local NGO partner, to help 2,673 immigrant workers obtain the documents they needed to live and work legally in Brazil. They also helped 150 women understand their rights at work, taught 418 people Portuguese, and supported cultural learning for 6,000 immigrants. Through this partnership, 39 head office employees volunteered with Missão Paz, delivering educational and cultural activities, and 14 recent immigrants were hired to work at C&A Brazil.


Instituto C&A also partnered with non-profit centre Centro de Apoio e Pastoral do Migrante, that supports immigrants. Together, they helped 3,712 immigrants register as Brazilian residents and made 906 visits to factories and homes to provide advice on social welfare and labour conditions.