Safe and fair labour Safe and dignified work for all

We believe that safe and fair working conditions should be the norm for all apparel workers, not just the ones that work in our suppliers' factories. That’s why we are using our influence to build capacity across our supply chain, striving to normalise good practices and create convergence with other brands and multi stakeholder initiatives. We were one of the first apparel companies to institute a Supplier Code of Conduct in 1995, and have forged long-term relationships with many of our suppliers to build trust. 

 

C&A follows the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We are fully aware of the roles and responsibilities we have as a company. We have embedded the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the garment and footwear sector to properly identify, prioritise, and manage risk throughout our supply chain. This ongoing exercise aligns with C&A’s work with the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles,  the Dutch Covenant for Sustainable Apparel and Textile, and the industry-wide Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT) initiative.

We have defined the top four challenges faced by our suppliers and created long-term engagement strategies for each challenge. We are committed to seeking out solutions to eradicate practices such as excessive overtime and wages, undisclosed subcontracting, fire and building safety, restrictions to freedom of association, and labour rights in our key sourcing countries. We will continue to work in partnership with other leading organisations and civil society to drive change across the industry.

Supplier and worker engagement

Protecting the most vulnerable

Our top four labour issues

Over the past several years we have identified four priority challenges that significantly affect the working conditions in our supply chain. These issues are complex and usually interconnected in the unique contexts of the various countries we source our products from. Because of this, it takes time, collective action, influence, and partnerships to deliver sustainable change.

We are focused on building capacity, tackling those issues where our business decisions have the greatest impact, and identifying areas of convergence with other industry partners. In addition, we thoroughly analysed our purchasing practices and identified the areas where we can perform better towards our suppliers. The key challenges below are not in any specific order of importance.

 

Challenge 1 – Compensation and working hours

Working to live

For garment workers in markets such as Bangladesh, a long working week can be normal. We acknowledge the various factors that can cause this to happen and are working to change practices to ensure that workers are compensated fairly and no worker works    more than a maximum of 48 hours per week, plus 12 hours maximum of overtime. In fact, our Supplier Code of Conduct stipulates that working hours may not exceed a 48-hour week plus a maximum of 12 hours overtime, or 60 total hours in any seven-day period, except in truly exceptional and unforeseeable circumstances. In addition, workers need to be fairly compensated for their hard work.

Through supplier training and regular auditing, our supplier partners are aware of the requirement to comply with national laws, the ILO Core Conventions, collective bargaining agreements, and the aspects of the ETI Base Code dealing with maximum working hours, overtime pay, and rest days. They are also aware of the need to compensate workers for overtime in a timely manner. To maintain a safe and comfortable workplace, workers must also be allowed to take breaks, have at least one day off in every seven-day period, and be eligible for statutory holidays. To detect and address potential non-conformances with these requirements, our audit teams and Development Officers regularly assess, monitor, and help to mitigate unintended consequences.

Read more on how we rate our suppliers

Challenges

Through our experiences, we recognise that our buying and sourcing practices may affect how our suppliers plan for production and can have significant impacts on wages and working hours. Last-minute changes in design, production, or delivery timings may inadvertently exacerbate this issue. Aside from this, we have also experienced that suppliers may not adequately plan for production, leading, among other things, to challenges in staffing levels to deliver the orders on time. Other factors like workers needing to attain additional compensation to support their families, and situations where factory management may intentionally misrepresent actual working hours to avoid business impacts, make this particular issue very challenging to address. Lastly, there is a general lack of wage law enforcement by local governments, requiring the brands to do most of the checking.

For many years, we have required our suppliers and their factories to compensate workers by paying wages that meet or exceed legal minimum and/or industry benchmark standards, whichever is higher. Even so, it’s still common to find instances of unpaid overtime premium. In some cases, workers are being compensated by productivity (the number of pieces made) instead of hourly at a premium rate.

How we’re responding

Many workers want or need to maximise their pay, so reductions in work hours can only benefit them if wages increase. Therefore, we have embarked on a journey to identify and overcome the barriers to these tensions through a multi-stakeholder approach with other brands, the Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT) initiative, C&A Foundation, and our own pilot projects.

Accurate tracking and adequate remuneration

Transparency on working practices is of utmost importance in allowing us to monitor performance across our supply chain. Over the past four years, we have emphasised the need for transparency with our suppliers and their production units. For instance, suppliers must use reliable time recording systems, where all regular hours, overtime hours, and breaks are accurately tracked. Our Sustainable Supply Chain (SSC) Development Officers help factory management understand these requirements and work with them to ensure the accuracy of their records.

 

Ensuring appropriate payment and training

C&A’s Code of Conduct specifies that wages and compensation (for standard working hours, i.e., without overtime) must be paid regularly and on time, and be sufficient to meet basic needs and provide some discretionary income for workers and their families’. This definition is aligned with the one used by the Clean Clothes Campaign and others. In addition, C&A is a founding member of the industry-wide initiative ACT. C&A has highlighted its commitment to work towards living wages in our supply chain in the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2015 with IndustriALL. Among other commitments, as part of ACT we committed to help establish industry-wide, national collective bargaining agreements in those production countries that do not yet have them. This will allow worker representatives to bargain with the local manufacturers’ associations to secure the wages they need.

Whenever a piece-rate wage is used, suppliers must demonstrate that payments are at least equivalent to the minimum wage or that collective bargaining is in place. This is supported by a written wage and compensation policy communicated to workers through employee handbooks, notice boards, letters, regular meetings, or other means. Factories must also provide training to all workers and subcontractors. These measures increase transparency and empower workers, while helping us identify the issues more easily. In 2019, 99.6% of our production units were in compliance with national wage legislation. All C&A suppliers in China were found to be in compliance with respect to wages. Non-compliances were discovered among a small percentage of suppliers in South Asia, Brazil, and Mexico.

Read more about our Supplier Ownership Programme

Supportive purchasing practices

Our aspiration is to drive an efficient and ethical buying process, taking into consideration the challenging environment in which our suppliers operate. We have undertaken a thorough internal assessment of the way we buy, using the ACT self-assessment tool. C&A actively participated in the creation of this tool and analysed all steps of its buying process thoroughly: from forecasting and product development to production and delivery. We identified eight core areas for improvement within our purchasing practices. These improvement areas have been agreed collectively in the form of ACT purchasing practices commitments by which we abide. In addition, C&A is in the process of implementing the ACT Labour Costing Principles for isolating labour costs in price negotiations with suppliers.

Together with our senior sourcing and buying management, C&A is working on implementing a holistic internal action plan focused on improving our communication with suppliers to create additional trust and training our own employees on responsible buying practices, among many other areas of work. In addition, we are committed to developing a monitoring process, together with other ACT brands, suppliers, and trade unions that will make it possible to measure improvements in our purchasing practices and report on progress.

Improving purchasing practices is not a project with a start and end date. We believe it is a continuous journey — one we have just started. If we want to have a long-lasting impact on suppliers and workers, engaging the whole industry on this journey is crucial. That is why we are proactively sharing our knowledge and experience buying responsibly with industry peers and initiatives such as the Dutch Covenant and German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles.

Case study

Towards living wages for workers

Achieving a living wage is a continuous improvement journey that is sustainable over time only if it takes place through a process owned by both worker and entrepreneur representatives. We aim to make sure there is full freedom of association so that suppliers and workers in our supply chain are knowledgeable and empowered to negotiate, sign, and implement collective agreements. When there is full respect of labour rights, workers feel empowered to negotiate their living wage and participate in ensuring gradual wage increases over time.

ACT is made up of 21 international brands and IndustriALL Global Union. Its members are bound by a common objective: to ensure living wages for garment and textile workers by promoting industry-wide collective bargaining agreements in the most important sourcing countries. C&A has been part of ACT, as a founding member, since its inception.

ACT members recognise that no sustainable solution is possible without close collaboration with manufacturers, employers’ organisations, trade unions, and governments in the garment producing countries. In a globalised economy, national solutions cannot be separated from the role of international supply chains. Together, we are focusing on three elements that can have a positive effect on outcomes at the factory level:

  • Establishing programmes for industry-wide collective bargaining – which can lead to improved worker participation and voice to influence practices and conditions.
  • Developing responsible purchasing practices for the garment and textile industry – which can lead to better planning and anticipation of the issues that may contribute to excessive working hours and unpaid wages.
  • Actively engaging the countries’ governments in the conversations – to support advocacy and national wage review processes.

Our approach

Collective bargaining at the industry level means that workers within a country can negotiate their wages under the same conditions, regardless of the factory where they work in, or the retailers and brands for which they produce. The ACT approach links collective bargaining with brands’ purchasing practices as the mechanism that provides the economic leeway for national bargaining partners to agree on continuous, substantial improvements in working conditions and wages.Therefore, C&A actively promotes the fundamental labour right of workers to bargain and negotiate collectively through their democratically elected labour unions.

We believe collective bargaining is the only viable approach to achieve living wages in the apparel industry in a sustainable manner. Collective agreements at the national level provide a level playing field for all employers and workers to agree on higher wages and better working conditions, instead of competing on those issues.

We are aware that brands’ purchasing practices and capacity planning are key for suppliers to plan their production cycles, avoid excessive working hours, and ensure on-time and accurate payment to workers. As the countries in Asia do not have a long history or experience with collective bargaining, we acknowledge that for a certain period of time, moving towards a living wage agreed through collective bargaining may carry the risk of an international competitive disadvantage. To address this challenge, the approach will be pursued in key sourcing countries simultaneously. Meanwhile, special supportive country commitments by C&A and other ACT brands for the first countries signing a collective bargaining agreement at industry level will mean that higher wages will not lead to international competitive disadvantages. We have a global supply chain and we believe it needs a global approach to transform the industry together with other peers.

Country work

C&A is working in Cambodia, Myanmar, Turkey, and Bangladesh alongside other ACT brands. These initial countries have been selected due to their sizable garment production, the considerable presence of ACT member brands, and the potential for trade unions to engage in collective bargaining at the industry level. Together, these countries make up 51% of our sourcing volume. Successfully working in these countries—along with the others where collective bargaining is already in place—will result in the vast majority of our supply base being covered by collective agreements.

Our progress in 2019 in four of the pilot countries was a stepping stone towards  establishing an industry-wide collective bargaining mechanism. In 2019, we were key participants in the four ACT country missions in Cambodia, Myanmar, Turkey, and Bangladesh, where we joined other brands and IndustriALL to meet key local stakeholders (local unions, factory owners, and ministries) and drive positive change in the development of a long-lasting collective bargaining process.

In late November 2019, following eight months of negotiations, factories producing for ACT brands—a group that includes C&A—in Myanmar agreed on a Myanmar Freedom of Association (FoA) Guideline with IndustriALL affiliate Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar. C&A engaged suppliers in this process and has made adherence to the FoA Guideline one of our zero tolerance criteria for all our suppliers in Myanmar. The FoA guideline covers the process for joint meetings between management and trade unions, dismissal procedure, collective bargaining mechanism and negotiation process, strikes, and other topics, designed to facilitate cooperation and solve workplace issues.

A lot remains to be done in this field. We are committed to engaging with all relevant stakeholders as well as working towards increasing the necessary buying leverage by inviting non-ACT brands to join our collective efforts to achieve our ultimate goal of improving living wages for workers in the apparel industry.

Challenge 2: Building and fire safety

Building capacity on fire, building, and electrical safety

It is a fundamental right of all workers to have a safe and healthy work environment. However, a lack of fire safety precautions in apparel production units has claimed the lives of thousands of people in Bangladesh.

Our Supplier Code of Conduct includes robust requirements for building construction, fire protection, and emergency preparedness. We have learned a lot from our work with the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, and have maintained leading brand status in remediation of fire and building safety issues in Bangladesh. We have rigorous requirements of all our factories and in all sourcing countries globally, and when appropriate, provide additional resources and training to improve safety. 

Challenges

Significant gaps in education and expertise

Fire and building safety are complex topics, with engineering and technical aspects that are often beyond the internal knowledge of an apparel factory. To assess these issues at the factory level, advanced vocational training and/or engineering degrees are required. In many of the sourcing countries, there is a lack of a competent talent pool to support the identification and remediation plan development, requiring costly consultant support. 

In addition, fire and building safety requires robust processes from the local government that ensures adherence to the national building, fire and electrical legislations. Bringing many of our suppliers up to standard has required partnership, leading to significant actions at the factory level such as educating and upskilling the workforce and refitting locations with fire-resistant features. Often, these upgrades are costly or require significant time and resources to achieve.

How we’re responding

Supporting our suppliers

Normalising a high standard of fire safety requires significant effort from us and our suppliers. We work closely with them to understand the implications of new requirements and support them as they implement improvements. With our input, factories can access the necessary skills and tools to implement fire, building and electrical safety programmes and management systems. We also assess their capability to implement the changes from a capital or resource standpoint.

Auditing

Our Supplier Code of Conduct was updated in 2015 to include additional extensive requirements for fire and building safety throughout our supply chain. During 2017 and early 2018, we worked with a consultancy to review our fire and building safety requirements again, ensuring compliance with local legislation and industry standards. We inspect all of our factories and require them to have legal documentation in place for each of their buildings, including dormitories, canteens and warehouses. Legal documentation is checked, and buildings undergo regular safety inspections to ensure improvements are implemented according to local legislation. Since this is an ongoing task, we will continue to adjust processes and requirements to ensure all production units are operating as safe working places.

Legal documentation

C&A suppliers are required to maintain adequate insurance that covers workers for any injuries, accidents, or death. This applies to all work done on site and should also, when stipulated by law, include contractors and temporary and part-time workers.

Case study

Improving building and fire safety in Bangladesh

It has been seven years since the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, in which more than 1,100 garment workers lost their lives.

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh helps ensure that no worker needs to fear fire, building collapses or other accidents that can be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures.

The Accord is a legally-binding agreement between global brands and retailers and IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union and eight of their Bangladeshi affiliated unions to work towards a safe and healthy garment and textile industry in Bangladesh.

This agreement was signed in the immediate aftermath to the Rana Plaza building collapse on 24 April 2013, which killed 1,133 workers and critically injured thousands more. Over 220 companies signed the five-year Accord, and by May 2018, the work of the Accord had contributed to significantly safer workplaces for millions of Bangladeshi garment workers.  To maintain and expand the progress achieved under the 2013 Accord, over 190 brands and retailers have signed the 2018 Transition Accord with the global unions, a renewed agreement which entered into effect on 1 June 2018. Moving into 2020, the Transition Accord will cease and the responsibility will be transferred to the Bangladesh government for further implementation.

Read more on the Accord website

Read more about the Transition Bangladesh Accord

Read more on the Accord website

Challenge 3: Freedom of association

Enabling worker organisation and collective bargaining

Freedom of association and collective bargaining is fundamental to improving labour conditions across the apparel supply chain and in our sourcing countries. Freedom of association remains an important focus of our strategy to amplify workers’ voices, encourage a dialogue with management, and advance the overall performance of our suppliers' factories.

Challenges

Overcoming legal restrictions

Some countries restrict collective bargaining by law. In these cases, we expect our suppliers to help workers establish alternative forms of worker representation and negotiation. We also expect our suppliers to establish, implement and communicate a grievance mechanism that is accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent, rights-compatible, confidential and based on engagement and dialogue to resolve internal disputes and employee complaints. Freedom of association is tested as part of our auditing process and violations are considered a severe non-compliance with our Supplier Code of Conduct. It is also a key aspect of our Fairness Channel  and WeChat (in China only) compliance hotlines, implemented with the support of Ethicspoint incident management software.

Incidents

In 2019 we detected 18 cases where freedom of association was not respected in our supply chain. Of these cases, 11 were found in Myanmar, 3 in Turkey, and one each in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Mexico, and Brazil. In all countries where freedom of association cases have been detected, we have staff whose task it is to develop suppliers and production units working for C&A. We have thus been able to address each of the issues individually, working together with suppliers, production units, respective units, and government representatives to resolve the cases. All 18 cases were resolved to the mutual satisfaction of workers, management, and labour unions.

How we’re responding

Fair resolution

When freedom of association issues are discovered through auditing, union allegations, strikes or via our Fairness Channel compliance hotlines, we take decisive action to work together with the proper groups to resolve the issue, ensure the fair treatment of workers and implement the necessary safeguards to avoid being repeated in the future. Where necessary, we will support the reinstatement of workers dismissed unfairly and ask for compensation or support.

Read more about our values and Fairness Channels

Case study

Combating child labour in embroidered garment supply chains

Over the past several years, C&A together with C&A Foundation — and now Laudes Foundation — continued our journey to eradicate human and labour rights abuse in the embroidered garment supply chain. Hand- embroidered items are one of India’s main contributions to the global apparel market.

Workers are often in home settings, making it difficult to monitor their working conditions. Home working is allowed in our supply chain only if suppliers follow C&A Guidelines for the Use of Home Workers, which is adapted from the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) guidelines.

The non-governmental organisation GoodWeave envisions a world where all children are sent to school and not to work, and in which adults have rights, dignity and opportunities in the workplace. It has been extremely effective: child labour in South Asia’s carpet industry has declined by an estimated 80% since its work in the region began. The effectiveness of this work is based on the successful implementation of a traceability system, monitoring standard and improved social infrastructure in home working communities.

In 2016, C&A Foundation[1] commissioned a two-year pilot project with GoodWeave in Uttar Pradesh, India. The goal was to find an approach for the apparel industry that will be as successful as the carpet industry model, providing educational support to those too young to be working and ensuring all adults are working in safe and fair conditions. Phase two of this partnership is now reaching 20,000 workers and 6,500 children within and beyond C&A supply chains.

Child Friendly Community (CFC) programmes, which ensure children are enrolled in schools, are now established in six project communities in India: Tilbegampur, Kanwara, Jaee, Bissa, Salai, and Nangla. Where this is not possible, children are enrolled into informal bridging schools known as Motivation and Learning Centres (MLCs) to help them reach the standard they need to enroll in private or government schools.

The pilot shed light on the economic hardships faced by home workers and how accessibility to our full supply chains remains a key challenge. Suppliers are more engaged and the mapping is more successful when several brands push for participation and transparency together – a similar finding to GoodWeave’s work with the carpet industry. GoodWeave has invited additional apparel producers and NGOs to engage and is currently in discussion with several other brands.

[1] In January 2020, C&A Foundation became part of Laudes Foundation. This work in particular was started by C&A Foundation and continues today under Laudes Foundation.

Championing worker representation

Our Supplier Code of Conduct requires our suppliers to adopt an open and collaborative attitude towards worker representation, allow workers to form or join trade unions of their own choosing, and to bargain collectively.

In addition, we are participating in the ACT Initiative, which plays a key role in assuring living wages in the supplier countries through the creation of national industry-wide collective bargaining processes with freedom of association as a main cornerstone.

Read more about our involvement in the ACT Initiative
 

Empowering workers

When workers and management communicate well, they are more likely to collectively support a healthy work environment. Workers need to know their rights and responsibilities and have channels through which they can raise concerns. C&A is committed to helping our suppliers provide workers with safe and effective ways to raise concerns and grievances. During the last decade, our compliance hotlines have helped us identify issues that arise in our offices, stores, or supply chain. We aim to support fairness and transparency in how we work with our employees, suppliers, and their workers. 

Read more about how we empower workers

Learn more about our values

Supporting freedom of association

Recent years have seen unrest in the Cambodian garment industry. Protesters have taken to the streets, clashing with security forces and union leaders have been dismissed as they planned to organise strikes. Unions have repeatedly described repression of workers’ rights by company management and anti-union crackdowns. Engaging with suppliers on freedom of association and collective bargaining is a high priority for us.

Through the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI), we have engaged with other brands to voice our concerns directly to the Government. Together, we were clear that stability, predictability, and the rule of law are needed for further growth of the garment sector in the region. In particular, we want to see Cambodian laws respecting the ILO Core Conventions.

We continue our active engagement with the Government of Cambodia, suppliers, and key stakeholders to raise our concerns about labour and human rights. To date, we have participated in three consultations with unions, suppliers, and the government in Cambodia. 

During the round tables, we emphasised that C&A aims to work only with production units that fully comply with our Supplier Code of Conduct. We encourage suppliers to enable open communication to solve disputes amicably and are willing to support them with technical knowledge if they have difficulties resolving a dispute.

Due to the rigour of these round table discussions, we have already seen changes start to happen in the region, including the following outcomes:

  • Improved supplier knowledge of local legislation
  • Increased understanding of the role of trade unions
  • Improved means to address conflicts between management and worker representatives

Challenge 4: Undisclosed production

Preventing undisclosed production

Undisclosed production is when a production unit that has not been previously approved for production is discovered. Although it is not often detected, it constitutes a serious violation because we cannot verify that the factory is in alignment with our Supplier Code of Conduct and our environmental and social requirements. We require that each new production unit is audited and meets the requirements of our Supplier Code of Conduct before orders are placed.

Challenges

The detection of undisclosed production requires ongoing vigilance due to the complexity of the global supply chain. It’s one of the reasons that we disclose a list of our tier-1 and tier-2 suppliers’ factories every year. By being transparent on where our products are produced, we can create accountability for ourselves and our suppliers when undisclosed production is used.

In 2019, we detected 36 incidents of undisclosed production in our supply chain. We consider these violations to be serious, and three of those cases led to the suspension of C&A’s business relationship with the supplier. In all cases, a thorough investigation was conducted, and corrective action plans put in place with the supplier and our internal teams.

Read more on how we rate our suppliers and our commitment to transparency

See our suppliers’ list

How we’re responding

Clear expectations and serious consequences

If undisclosed production is identified, the Sustainable Supply Chain (SSC) and Sourcing and Quality teams assess the situation and the production unit. Because the circumstances behind the cases are sometimes complex, the teams thoroughly investigate the situation and intentions, and utilise a systematic process to determine the consequences.

Three-strike process

We continue to operate under a  three-strike policy to mitigate the risk of undisclosed production units such as home working. Additionally, if a zero-tolerance item is found on inspection, a supplier can be suspended for 12 months or terminated, depending on the results of the investigation. If undisclosed production is detected and the factory meets the other requirements of our Supplier Code of Conduct and quality standards, the supplier will receive a warning on the first instance, leading to suspension for 12 months or termination after the third instance. In all cases, if a zero-tolerance finding is detected at the undisclosed production unit, the supplier will be suspended for 12 months.

To foster accountability and understanding of our requirements around undisclosed subcontracting, we informed our entire supply base and have regular interactions on the subject during our audit process.