Chemicals Progressing towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals

Chemicals surround us in our daily life. Not surprisingly, they are also an integral component in making and washing garments – from helping grow raw materials like cotton, to processes like dyeing or as key ingredients in the laundry products our customers use. At C&A, we want to make sure chemicals used in making C&A products are safe for people and the planet. We apply the ‘clean factory’ approach, encouraging the elimination of hazardous chemicals across production for all brands, not just C&A’s production. To that end, we are a founding member of ZDHC, a coalition of 27global brands and retailers with a shared commitment to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in their supply chains.

Each year we demonstrate our public commitment to the communities where our apparel is produced – and to Greenpeace – by reporting our progress in this detailed report. Along with a full explanation of our chemicals management approach and the progress we make, we also present the challenges we face. Year-on-year performance data is also available on the chemical audits and regular wastewater testing we carry out as part of our Sustainable Chemicals Management (SCM) programme.

Read our public commitment to ZDHC


Our approaches to controlling hazardous chemicals

Our approach to Sustainable Chemicals Management

C&A’s holistic approach to chemical management revolves around three areas: input, process, and output management.

Our holistic approach to chemical management

We recognise that our vision of a supply chain with zero discharge of hazardous chemicals cannot be achieved alone. Only with industry efforts including brands, NGOs, academics, chemical suppliers, and manufacturers can we drive permanent change. Within each of the above three areas, C&A has focused on developing industry standards, tools, and methodologies, such as our efforts in developing the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg 3.0 Facility Environmental Module (FEM) and the ZDHC Gateway.

We have also created a Minimum Performance Standard as a tool to communicate our expectations in chemical management to our supply chain. All of our facilities under the SCM programme are provided with a rating that encourages them to meet or conduct remediation to ensure the expectations are adhered to. The Standard is updated annually to drive continuous improvement towards ZDHC. And since 2015, all our facilities have been required to disclose their wastewater test reports on the Institute of Environmental Affairs (IPE) website, and required to disclose on the ZDHC Gateway since its beginning.

C&A engages with industry stakeholders such as the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE). As part of this engagement, C&A regularly screens our supply chain for environmental violations listed on the IPE website and works jointly to drive remediation across our supply chain in China. This screening extends beyond C&A’s direct suppliers to also cover upstream and downstream suppliers such as chemical formulators, waste disposal operators, and off-site effluent treatment plants. As part of these efforts, C&A has joined the IPE Blue EcoChain tool, which provides automatic notifications to C&A should an environmental violation be detected in the supply chain. This allows C&A to provide an immediate response and work quickly with the facility to remediate the issue.

Input management

Input management is the cornerstone of the SCM programme. The objective of input management is simple: for C&A suppliers to procure chemicals that meet ZDHC requirements. In practice, this means screening and testing chemical products against the requirements of the ZDHC Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) and registering the results on the ZDHC Gateway. The Gateway acts as a global database for safer chemistry for C&A suppliers and the industry at large.

To support the identification of safer chemistry, C&A implements a hazard-based Screened Chemistry Programme with several other brands to identify best-in-class and better alternative chemicals. Together, along with the ZDHC Gateway, we provide our suppliers with information on safer chemicals so they can make informed decisions when procuring chemicals.

We are also working globally to engage with key chemical suppliers and formulators to increase the awareness of ZDHC and its requirements, with the aim of increasing knowledge of safer chemistry and driving research and innovation to find suitable alternatives.

Our approach to chemical input management

Process management

Process management is key to ensuring each of our supply chain partners has the necessary personnel, management systems, tools and expertise to reach ZDHC requirements. To do this, we developed the SCM Audit — an approach we used from 2015 through 2018 and in which we sent in technical experts to each of our wet production units to assess their current level of performance and create a joint action plan to drive continuous improvement. Beginning in 2019, our auditing approach is being replaced with the Higg Index 3.0 FEM.

Output management

C&A is committed to report publicly on its progress towards ZDHC. We conduct regular wastewater testing at our production units against the ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines to validate the elimination of hazardous chemicals. By testing raw wastewater for chemicals listed on the ZDHC MRSL, we validate the elimination of hazardous chemicals at individual facilities. If a detection is found, a phase-out plan is created with the facility to replace the chemical with a sustainable alternative within the shortest possible timeline.

Additionally, all C&A suppliers communicate their wastewater testing results publicly on the Institute of Environmental Affairs (IPE) website as well as the ZDHC Gateway. This ensures that all relevant stakeholders have access to the progress we are making year-on-year.

Capacity building

We train our suppliers to understand why chemical management matters and what it involves, and to develop the infrastructure they need to reduce their impact. This capacity building covers many different areas, but includes training about which chemicals to use, how to select better alternatives and how to safely manage chemicals in their operations.

On-the-ground experts conduct frequent site visits to provide any support required and to assess remediation progress and timelines as part of our corrective action plan (CAP) process. C&A also hosts regular meetings at our local offices, at an operational level to discuss common issues in the supply chain and develop solutions, and also at a top management and owner level to raise awareness of our requirements.

Working together towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals

The SCM programme was built on a foundation of collaboration. From the very beginning, we realised that no brand can achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals alone. To that end, we were a founding member of the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Foundation, established in 2012 with the goal of eliminating the use of priority chemicals by:

  • Developing and updating the Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) and accompanying guidance on conformity
  • Identifying safer alternatives for chemicals that are included on the MRSL
  • Developing a robust chemical assessment process
  • Monitoring the quality of wastewater from production units and reporting publicly on results
  • Working towards full transparency of chemical discharge in our supply chain
  • Empowering our suppliers to move towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals through capacity building and training

By using our global size and scale to deliver results in these six areas, our company is going beyond compliance. Ultimately, we are seeking to normalise good practice at C&A suppliers’ factories and across the rest of the industry.

C&A engages with industry stakeholders such as the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE). As part of this engagement, C&A regularly screens our supply chain for environmental violations listed on the IPE website and works jointly to drive remediation across our supply chain in China.

Working with C&A Foundation to drive improvement

C&A Foundation brings together brands, initiatives and people who collectively have the power to create a fair and sustainable fashion industry. A core focus area of the foundation is circular fashion, including chemicals. C&A Foundation has been working extensively with the ZDHC to accelerate, further scale and drive impact on eliminating the use of hazardous chemicals across global apparel and footwear supply chains.

The foundation has several active grants with the ZDHC:

Five-year strategic growth plan. This plan is enabling ZDHC to prioritise actions and document important milestones, supporting its vision of ‘widespread implementation of sustainable chemistry and best practices in the textile, leather and footwear industries to protect consumers, workers, and the environment’. C&A Foundation also provided a grant to accelerate plan implementation. This includes demonstrating the enabling role of chemistry, strengthening ZDHC organisational capacity, deepening support in target regions/countries, and promoting continuous improvement in the industry.

Other grants support the development and application of two important tools that have been adopted by C&A for our supply chain:

  • ZDHC Gateway – Wastewater Module. One of the barriers to better chemical management is a lack of data to inform and drive wastewater improvement. The Wastewater Module is a disclosure platform for wastewater discharge information that helps factories to disclose timely and accurate information, allows brands to monitor progress throughout the supply chain, and demonstrates accountability to industry stakeholders.
  • ZDHC InCheck Tool. Suppliers do not always know how to access alternative chemicals for their production processes. This tool allows manufacturers to create and update a chemical inventory, complete a self-assessment, and source better chemicals.

Read more about C&A Foundation’s support of ZDHC


Our 2018 performance

In 2018, our input management approach matured to include greater focus on mapping and transparency with respect to the chemicals used in our supply chain. This included working closely with ZDHC to populate the gateway, and with our suppliers to upload and register their chemicals to the gateway. When hazardous chemicals are discovered through this process, we are supporting our suppliers in replacing them with safer chemicals where possible, using hazard-based Screen Chemistry to assess chemical products.

Together, these are central components of the C&A SCM Programme, which covers 92% of our global business volume – an increase of 11% over 2017 – from our wet processing units in tier-1 and tier-2 facilities to all nominated fabric mills. Our SCM minimum performance standard, introduced at the end of 2017, is a holistic scoring mechanism that transparently aggregates a facility’s performance across the three pillars of the programme: Input, Process, and Output. The standard also covers remediation, to ensure facilities are continuously working to improve their performance. Requirements are categorised into three groups—Zero Tolerance, Critical, and Major—and each facility is scored based on the number of requirements met.

In 2017, we determined that 71% of our supply chain was not meeting our Minimum Performance Standard, so in 2018 we focused on creating impact. This involved special efforts to build knowledge, strengthen skills, and drive remediation in the supply chain. By 2018, the number of facilities not meeting our minimum performance standard was reduced by 56%. The facilities not meeting our requirements, 15% of the total, were primarily new facilities that were added into the SCM Programme during 2018 and were conducting their first audit and wastewater testing.

Between 2017 and 2018, we remediated:

  • 478 Critical issues
  • 663 Major issues

This was achieved by performing:

  • 379 Chemical management audits
  • 478 Wastewater tests to identify hazardous chemicals in our supply chain
  • 379 Corrective action plan visits to evaluate efforts towards meeting our SCM programme requirements
    16 two-day seminars on chemical and wastewater management, training over 400 factory staff

2017 represented the first year our facilities were given a SCM performance score based on a standard, and 29% of facilities were found to be meeting our requirements, with the remaining facilities given a clear timeframe for raising their performance to ensure they can continue to work with C&A. During 2017 we determined that significant work was needed to support our supply chain in meeting C&A’s requirements in chemical and environmental management.

Therefore, our focus in 2018 was on enhancing our internal and external support programmes.As a result, 85% of facilities were meeting our requirements by the end of the year. The SCM Minimum Performance Standard becomes more exacting each year, so facilities will continue to be held accountable for any new requirements as well as any required remediation against the 2017 and 2018 standard.

Whilst we continue to issue a SCM Rating to communicate internally and to our facilities their high-level performance status, we feel it is more tangible to communicate the number of non-conformances remediated.

Average number of Critical and Major non-conformances for facilities in 2017 and 2018, after 12 months of remediation

Number of critical and major non-conformances
Country of Production

Total number of Critical and Major non-conformances in 2017 and after 12 months of remediation

The above results show that the SCM remediation programme is working, with further efforts still required to increase the level of performance in line with C&A expectations. As the minimum performance standard rises each year, C&A drives continuous improvement. Since updating our standards in 2018, SCM identified an additional 65 critical and 158 major issues across the supply chain, and suppliers are now being given 12 months’ support for remediation. These newly identified issues are not included in the above analysis so that we can more clearly show the effectiveness of the SCM remediation programme by providing a year-on-year comparison.

Input management

We made significant progress in 2018 in better understanding the challenges of input management as well as advancing industry solutions.

During 2017, C&A conducted a pilot project using CleanChain, a chemical inventory management tool, to better understand what chemicals our suppliers purchase and where they come from, and then—by mapping against the ZDHC Gateway—identify their MRSL conformance. In 2018, CleanChain was rolled out to facilities globally, which make up a long and complex chemical supply chain.

The CleanChain process produces the ZDHC InCheck tool, which we piloted in our supply chain throughout 2018. This tool will standardise the industry’s approach to monitoring input chemistry. By collecting a facility’s chemical inventory list and screening it against safer chemicals listed in the ZDHC Gateway, the tool identifies the facility’s level of conformance to the MRSL. Each facility in the pilot was given an InCheck report, which we used to identify and manage progress towards the elimination of hazardous chemicals

It is vital that the industry have one source of information for conformant chemistry. To address this, in 2017 ZDHC launched the Gateway, a global database of safer chemistry that enables chemical formulators to securely share chemical information with brands and textile, footwear, and leather suppliers, in line with the ZDHC standards. ZDHC brings together a global database of conformant chemistry by recognising existing certifications, and now includes more than 20 such certifications.

As of the end of 2018, 130 facilities had adopted CleanChain. These facilities sourced from 1,122 chemical formulators and purchased 7,777 unique chemical products. Using a combination of data from ZDHC Gateway and other public portals, C&A has identified that 46% of these chemical products are MRSL conformant. Not all of these remaining chemicals are necessarily non-conformant, but simply have yet to be certified. From the chemical products used by these facilities, the coverage of ZDHC Gateway was 11%. This demonstrates that the platform is still in its infancy and requires further industry support to reach its potential.

This experience demonstrates the need to have global alignment on input chemistry in order to engage the long, complex chemical supply chains used by the apparel and textile industry. To this end, C&A continues to engage with our key chemical suppliers, both international and domestic, to introduce the ZDHC requirements, with the aim of publishing their conformant chemistry in the ZDHC Gateway. Despite continued challenges to the Gateway, C&A remains committed to the Platform as its one source of information on safer chemicals.

Process management

For last few years, we have relied on a comprehensive system of SCM audits to assess a facility’s on-site chemical management system and performance. In December 2018, we moved to adopt the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s updated Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) 3.0, following our successful pilot at 41 facilities throughout the year.

Our internal audit system was phased out in March 2019 in favour of the Higg 3.0 FEM industry standard, which links manufacturers, brands, and retailers together in measuring environmental impacts and provides various training and improvement resources. This module offers a holistic approach beyond chemicals and wastewater – our previous primary focus areas – to include environmental management systems, permits, water, air, wastewater, chemicals, and waste.

The top five non-conformances identified in 2018 were:

  1. Facility not implementing a plan for the proper handling, use, storage, and disposal of chemicals.
  2. Facility not properly managing hazardous waste (including sludge).
  3. Facility does not have a system to ensure chemical formulations purchased are compliant with ZDHC MRSL or similar standard.
  4. Facility does not maintain personal protective equipment (PPE), safety showers, or other safety measures appropriate for the chemical hazards according to the MSDS.
  5. Facility not having a policy for monitoring and controlling banned and restricted substances for all chemicals used in the facility.

Once all the non-conformances are identified, the SCM team works with the facilities to implement a corrective action plan and provide technical support wherever needed. To date, the C&A SCM Programme has created 379 corrective action plans that all contribute to the elimination of hazardous chemicals. Given that many new facilities were added into the global SCM Programme in 2018, the top five non-conformances are similar to those identified in 2017. The SCM team members typically identify the same challenges during the first audit cycle, given that some of these issues go beyond legal compliance and are not necessarily in the scope of typical compliance audits. 

Overcoming challenges

In 2017, C&A identified a knowledge gap in the supply chain needed to overcome many of the issues we had identified through our audits. Most of the mills, laundries, and printers we work with only have a basic understanding of chemicals issues, and lack the skills and information to make necessary changes.

To meet this challenge, in 2018 C&A implemented a series of global trainings with an expert chemical management consultancy. Over 2 days, we trained more than 400 factory workers on Chemical and Wastewater Management, tackling issues such as how to manage hazardous waste, properly handle and dispose of chemicals, conduct chemical risk assessments, and address other important knowledge gaps identified during our audits.

Another challenge is third-party resources. Although some good progress is being made – particularly with the Higg Index 3.0 module – third-party resources for chemical auditing and wastewater testing are not yet mature. High costs and a lack of resources and collaboration are currently slowing down the kind of progress we need to meet our targets as an industry.

Output management

In 2017, C&A conducted wastewater testing at 358 facilities across 16 countries using the methodology listed in the ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines. C&A tests wastewater samples at three points: incoming water, raw wastewater, and discharged wastewater. Since 2018, all our facilities have been required to disclose their wastewater test reports on both the IPE website and ZDHC Gateway.

Rates of MRSL compliance in raw wastewater by chemical group

Number of supplier facilities
Chemicals tested

This graph reflects the latest wastewater test reports from 358 facilities globally using the clean factory approach, meaning results include all production on-site from all brands. Results indicate a positive trend in facilities continuing to identify hazardous chemicals used in their production facilities and phase them out. Ten of the 14 chemical groups now have a failure rate of 5% or less, demonstrating that the majority of facilities have now phased out these chemicals. Of high concern is the number of detections in AP & APEOs and phthalates, a similar trend to 2017, in addition to disperse dyes and Poly Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs).

C&A will continue to work with our supply chain, and the chemical industry, to strive towards zero detections of hazardous chemicals in wastewater. C&A’s advances in chemical input management will support this work as it directly tackles the issue at source and works to ensure that facilities know which chemicals are compliant before they are purchased and used.

Where next?

Industry-wide, apparel suppliers continue to face challenges in substituting safer chemicals. Factors such as the limited availability of viable and cost-effective alternatives, the need for thorough assessment of chemicals thought to be safer, the lack of support from governments, and a need for greater transparency in chemical formulations all present difficulties to the supply chain.At C&A, we are using a variety of approaches—including training, capacity building, and infrastructure changes—to help suppliers address these challenges, while also recognising the broader issues that extend beyond their control.


Input management

Looking ahead to 2019 and beyond, we will continue increasing traceability in our chemical supply chain. Using the CleanChain tool work we began in late 2018, C&A will continue mapping our chemical supply chain to better understand what chemical products are being used, where they are coming from, and how they are disposed. This will include focused engagement with our chemical supply chain as we work to identify and phase out hazardous chemicals and to certify safer chemicals to be used in the supply chain, via ZDHC. This is a long process likely to take several years, but we are confident the CleanChain tool and ZDHC Gateway will play a key role.

Our efforts to enhance transparency in our chemical supply chain allow us to prioritise our collaborations to create the biggest impact. In 2019 and beyond, we will keep working with key chemical suppliers to drive further adoption of the ZDHC Gateway. We will also continue setting requirements on the usage of chemicals registered in the Gateway for our supply chain from 2019 onwards. In addition, Screen Chemistry, which uses a hazards-based approach to chemistry, will continue to play an important role in our programme as it is critical to ensuring that human health and environmental impacts are fully evaluated before adopting alternative chemistries. This is imperative to avoid regrettable substitutions.

Process management

C&A will continue to drive positive impacts in process management. Many of the facilities audited for the first time in 2017 were given expert technical support to remediate all key issues, and are expected to continue this work until the issues have been addressed. In 2019, we are evolving our previous approach and replacing the internal SCM Audit with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) Higg FEM 3.0 tool, an important industry standard. We are excited to join the growing number of brands and retailers looking to align their assessment of environmental and chemical performance across the industry. Using the Higg FEM 3.0 tool, we are able to reduce auditing for our suppliers and contribute to improved alignment across brands, making it more efficient for suppliers to implement necessary changes for the benefit of multiple customers and the industry as a whole.

Annually, C&A suppliers will use the FEM tool to conduct assessments, which are then verified by SAC-approved, on-site assessors. Benchmarking by facility type will allow facility managers to compare their performance against that of their peers. The modules will also give manufacturers guidance for improvement and current best practices, while creating opportunities for conversation among supply chain partners so businesses can collectively perform better.

Also in 2018, we continued rolling out SCM Capacity Building to ensure we close the skill and knowledge gap that exists within the textile supply chain today. In 2019, facilities will continue to receive on-site expert support via C&A’s SCM team located in all major production countries.

Output management

Alongside a strengthened input management programme, wastewater testing continues to validate that the elimination of hazardous chemicals has been achieved in specific facilities, or reveals their progress towards reaching ZDHC. With many facilities having conducted their first ever wastewater testing in 2017, the focus in 2018 was on root-cause analysis – identifying the failing chemical detection back to its original source and looking for alternatives. C&A continues creating phase-out plans for each facility where a failing chemical detection occurs and supporting them in finding alternatives via the ZDHC Gateway. 

Likewise, we remain committed to publicly disclosing wastewater test results using the ZDHC Gateway Wastewater Module and IPE. The Gateway Wastewater Module, funded by C&A Foundation, serves as a global portal for verified wastewater results tested against the ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines. It provides suppliers (manufacturing facilities) with an easy way to disclose secured and verified wastewater and sludge data to their clients (brands/retailers), reduce unnecessary testing, and focus on improving the quality of discharge.

Designing products with zero discharge of hazardous chemicals

Our vision is for the global apparel industry to become a circular system, where clothes are designed with their next use in mind. Our gold level Cradle to Cradle Certified™ t-shirts and jeans play a vital role in the certification of safe chemistry. These products are designed and made with fewer, safer chemicals, and complement our overall approach to better chemical management by demonstrating that zero discharge of hazardous chemicals is possible. Our leadership in sustainable chemicals management involves working with suppliers to reduce all hazardous chemicals in their factories, not just the chemicals used for C&A production. In this way qand others, we are striving to create a paradigm shift not only in our own supply chain, but across the entire apparel industry.

Read more about our Cradle-to-Cradle Certified™ products