Review statement from Forum for the Future

2015 was a landmark year for sustainable development. Following the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, we saw the universal, legally binding Paris agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°c. The world now has a clear, shared vision of a future that can end poverty, reduce inequality and avert the destructive effects of a global temperature rise. And it’s business that can lead on making that future a reality. There has never been a better time for business to be bold and ambitious when it comes to sustainability.

Being bold and ambitious on sustainability requires a business to look way beyond the boundaries of its business, and strive to shift the system in which it operates, in ways that both help solve complex sustainability challenges and create new pathways to value creation. For C&A, this means trying to shift the global apparel system to a more sustainable footing. This report tells a story of a business serious about solving complex challenges in the apparel system.

Cotton is one such challenge. Sustainable cotton is not yet mainstream, and meanwhile the sustainability challenges faced by cotton reflect the full breadth of the SDGs. Not only is C&A is the world’s largest user of organic cotton, thus leading by example, but the business has multiple partnerships designed to accelerate the volumes of sustainable cotton flowing into the market, as well as secure sustainable livelihoods for cotton farmers. Partnerships such as ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) are also the route the business is taking to help solve the complex issue of chemicals in manufacturing. C&A fully understands that issues such as cotton and chemicals are too big for it to tackle alone.

C&A also understands the importance of enablers such as transparency in accelerating the pace of change in the apparel system. By publishing the names and addresses of their suppliers they are taking the first steps towards greater information sharing and understanding of the supply chain and their issues. It’s also encouraging to see the same approach to transparency being applied to C&A’s own reporting on its progress, which features celebration in some areas, and honesty, where performance has missed the mark, in others.

Perhaps the ultimate enabler of the shift towards a sustainable apparel system is the prevailing business model in the sector, currently fuelling fast fashion. This is why it’s so important that pioneering businesses such as C&A are willing to experiment with the way in which revenue is created. Through clothes recycling and exploring its role in a more circular economy, C&A is preparing itself to be successful in a future that could be significantly different from our current reality.   

The scale of the challenge set by the SDGs means there is no room for complacency. By engaging with the sector and system around it, C&A is making good progress in critical areas and helping secure a sustainable future for the global apparel system. The chances of success are also greatly increased by the relationship with the C&A Foundation. Unlike many businesses, where the associated Foundation might be pursuing a very different, and often tactical strategy, the C&A business and the C&A Foundation share the same goals, and are beginning to exploit synergies in ways that could deliver transformative, and lasting change.

Sally Uren, CEO, Forum for the Future

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