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. As of early 2019, the participating suppliers and production units covered more than 67,500 workers, an increase over 2017. The managers involved in the programme report into senior factory management and lead the social and environmental compliance or sustainability programmes in the factories. We have shown that the programme is scalable and will continue with the certification of currently enrolled suppliers.

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.

Eight suppliers are now certified, with a total of 17 certified production units 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 a number of 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 the Supplier Ownership Programme
  • Aligned targets between compliance and production teams

Supplier Ownership Programme module topics and engagement approach

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 eight suppliers already certified under our Supplier Ownership Programme continued to run more of their production units through the programme.

Case study

Empowering employees at Epyllion

Epyllion in Bangladesh has been a C&A supplier for over 20 years – in fact, C&A was the company’s first international customer. Epyllion employs 12,060 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.