Supplier and worker engagement Working together to build a better supply chain

Although we have a rigorous auditing process and maintain a zero-tolerance approach to serious issues at our suppliers’ production units, more needs to be done to normalise good practice across the entire industry. That's why we are moving beyond auditing and compliance. To achieve our vision of safe and fair workplaces for all, we must employ a two-pronged approach: building our suppliers’ capacity to assess and strengthen their performance, and empowering their workers to act.


In many places, workers are simply not used to being able to influence decision-making. The right to freedom of association or acknowledgement of workers’ rights can be unheard of. We are changing that through supporting fair contracts and social dialogue.

Supplier Ownership Programme

Each supplier faces their own unique set of challenges, so a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Instead, we must partner with our suppliers to enable ownership of the issues and challenges they face in this area.

We launched a Supplier Ownership Programme (SOP) with 14 key suppliers in 2015 and expanded it to 24 in 2016. We have continued working with the same number of suppliers and production units during 2017, covering over 60,000 workers. The managers involved in the programme report into senior factory management and lead the social and environmental compliance or sustainability programmes in the factories.

The programme contains seven key interactive modules – from an overview on management systems to worker communication and the environment. Each module includes a one- or two-day workshop, home assignments and joint on-site visits by the C&A Development Officer and the responsible supplier representative.

Two suppliers are now certified and have a certified production unit in the programme, validated by the C&A Sustainable Supply Chain (SSC) team and Elevate, a third-party auditing company. This means that we trust the supplier to have the necessary social compliance management systems at a corporate level, and that the factories themselves have established management systems.

Our experience so far shows six essential factors required for a successful programme:

  • Top management commitment and mindset.
  • Commitment from the factory manager to work cross-functionally.
  • Competent compliance managers reporting directly to top management.
  • Compliance managers with time and resources dedicated to the project.
  • Suppliers and production units with at least two people skilled in SOP (for continuity in case one moves on).
  • Aligned targets between compliance and production teams.

Supplier Ownership Programme module topics and engagement approach

Building capacity beyond the Supplier Ownership Programme

UniEthos is a Brazilian NGO that supports businesses to integrate sustainability practices into their supply chains. C&A, Instituto C&A, Instituto Cyrela and UniEthos have partnered to deliver the Value in Chain (Valor em Cadeia) project, connecting large organisations with sewing- or construction-related entrepreneurs and helping them to build capacity.

Both sectors contain many small businesses with insufficient resources, often resulting in poor working conditions. The programme teaches small enterprises how to implement and maintain a sustainable business model.

During 2017, 57 participants from suppliers and subcontractors from C&A Brazil’s supply chain joined the Value in Chain project. The course, supported by Instituto C&A and UniEthos, one of its local partners, consists of 10 modules run over 18 months, teaching participants about management, leadership, finance and sustainability. In addition to these classes, the entrepreneurs receive 20 hours of consultancy on topics such as workers’ rights, health and safety, and pricing a business plan focused on sustainability. The initiative is also supported by ABVTEX (Brazilian Association of Textile Retail), the Social Service of Building (SeconCiSP) and Inter American Development Bank (IDB). 59% of participants increased their sales after completing the course, and 41% reduced their energy consumption.

Read more about the UniEthos course here (in Portuguese)

Case study

Social Dialogue Programme in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of ready-made garments worldwide and is one of C&A’s top five most important sourcing markets, accounting for 31.9% of our sourcing volume. The sector’s rapid growth in just over 40 years has generated significant employment opportunities, contributing to national income and helping raise people out of poverty.

However, the growth of this sector has come with challenges related to freedom of association and weak protection of labour rights. Underlying many of these problems is the lack of capacity of the workforce to represent themselves, articulate their needs and defend their rights.

In 2017, two of our suppliers’ factories in Bangladesh took part in a pilot social dialogue programme organised by the Joint Ethical Trade Initiatives (ETIs) of Denmark, UK and Norway. In total, 54,000 workers participated in this pilot.

The programme aims to develop better industrial relations within the Bangladeshi garment and textiles sector by building the capacity of both factory management and workers for social dialogue. This means that workers in Bangladeshi garment factories will have a stronger voice, resulting in better working conditions, and that employers' businesses will be strengthened through improved communications, a more motivated and stable workforce, and more skilled managers and supervisors.

The C&A supplier taking part was MNS Printing, a tier-2 supplier with two production units. They were very impressed with the Social Dialogue Programme and saw immediate improvements in rapport and trust between workers and management. They confirmed that their participation in the programme improved communication on vital health and safety information among other aspects related to working conditions. The management has also learned how to address workers’ issues in a faster and more efficient way than before. These findings were shared by our senior auditor, who also noted that workers in the factory were sharing feedback more freely.

Across the board, suppliers who took part in the Social Dialogue Programme – a total of 24 factories nominated by 11 brands – began to develop more mature industrial relations. For C&A, this maturity is an important route for ensuring safe and fair working conditions in our supply chain. We plan to continue our engagement in the programme in 2018 and help our factories establish effective mechanisms for social dialogue. Given the critical requirement of freedom of association in our supply chain, we will continue supporting similar programmes that empower the workers to defend their labour rights.

Read more about the Joint ETIs Social Dialogue Programme here

Where next?

Extending the Supplier Ownership Programme

We will continue to build capacity amongst our suppliers, while ensuring workers are aware of their rights and responsibilities, and that their freedom of association is respected. In 2018, the two suppliers already certified under our Supplier Ownership Programme will continue to run more of their production units through the programme. We also expect another eight suppliers to begin certification.

Case study

Empowering employees at Epyllion

Epyllion has been a C&A supplier for over 20 years – in fact, C&A was the company’s first international customer. Epyllion employs 16,000 workers in Bangladesh and has been participating in the C&A Supplier Ownership Programme since 2016.

Since starting the Supplier Ownership Programme, Epyllion’s knitwear factory in Mirput, Dhaka, has implemented several changes, including proactive management systems, better risk controls, and clear communication of policies and procedures to all employees.

At Epyllion, employees are empowered so the company understands their needs and they keep up to date on HR management issues, health and safety, their security and rights, and working practice. Workers and management have the resources to address issues proactively, and production can continue uninterrupted on a more regular basis. Having safe employees has meant better retention, leading to a more stable and productive workforce.

Being part of the Supplier Ownership Programme means that Epyllion can maintain a high level of compliance with its own company policies, C&A’s Supplier Code of Conduct, and local legislation. This forward-thinking outlook is paying dividends. The company has reduced its own costs and business risk by preventing problems instead of reacting to them.