Creating a safe, fair and environmentally sound supply chain

The apparel supply chain faces complex challenges. Environmental issues include the impacts of chemicals used in fabric dyeing and finishing, large volumes of water used in agriculture and garment production, and high energy demands and carbon dioxide emissions. For people who work in the apparel supply chain, wages, working conditions, hours, and safety are all important. The supply chain is also fragmented, and many retailers—including C&A—have hundreds of suppliers who in turn work with many production units. That's why we collaborate with others to drive large-scale change. We want HER, our customer, to know that C&A clothes have been made with low environmental impacts, by people who have decent working conditions and are paid a fair wage. 

Our ambition: Sustainability from farmer to customer

We are working towards a sustainable supply chain from farmer to customer. This means helping farmers move to more sustainable production methods like organic cotton, working to raise environmental and social standards in the facilities that make our products, as well as improving our own operations. Building supplier capacity and supporting fair working conditions for those in our supply chain are central to our vision of providing fashion with a positive impact.

Our approach: Clean environment, safe and fair labour

To achieve our vision of a truly sustainable supply chain, we focus on two areas: Clean Environment and Safe and Fair Labour. Socially and environmentally sound sourcing is fundamental for us, and we use a robust supplier selection process, coupled with rigorous auditing, to ensure our standards are being met. Where needed, we also help suppliers build capacity and strengthen performance. By working with them to raise their standards, we can help protect the environment, improve the lives of workers, and increase the resilience of our supply chain. Of course, the C&A supply chain includes our operations, too. From our stores and offices to our logistics and distribution centres, we’re taking steps to improve our own environmental performance.

Our 2020 goals:

Clean Environment - Reduce our environmental impact

  • Zero discharge of hazardous chemicals (ZDHC).
  • 20% carbon footprint reduction across stores, distribution centres, and offices.

Safe & Fair Labour - Ensure safe and fair working conditions

  • 100% of our products sourced from A-and B-rated suppliers.
  • Build capacity within our supply chain.

In the short term - by the end of 2016 - we aim to:

  • Develop goals for water and waste management.
  • Develop our approach to measure real change that is meaningful to the workers who manufacture our products.
  • Expand our ZDHC programme to 100 wet processing facilities globally.
  • Introduce our Supplier Ownership Programme to 10 additional suppliers.
  • Disclose our second-tier suppliers.

Our 2015 progress:

Our journey is far from over, but we’re moving towards these goals. During 2015, we:

  • Launched the first phase of our supplier transparency strategy - publicly disclosing the names and addresses of our suppliers’ factories.
  • Created a new Sustainable Chemicals Management team and strategy and rolled out our program to 52 of the largest fabric mills.
  • Eliminated use of perfluorinated compounds from our collections in all regions - ahead of the 2020 ZDHC deadline.
  • Supported the Bangladesh Accord and sped up remediation in all factories that produce items for C&A, managing over 16,163 corrective actions and completing 83% of them - a leading brand in Accord remediation.
  • Created the Tazreen Claims Administration Trust with C&A Foundation to compensate the victims of the Tazreen Fashions Fire in 2012.
  • Helped to establish Action Collaboration and Transformation (ACT), a global initiative to unite stakeholders in improving wages.
  • Initiated our first-ever study to evaluate the human rights due diligence of our supply chain as well as our sourcing and buying practices against the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.
  • Developed a holistic and effective approach to stakeholder engagement.
  • Decreased our absolute retail carbon footprint by 1.4%, while increasing our carbon efficiency by 9%.
  • Conducted our first assessment of our carbon and water footprints from cradle to grave.
  • Launched a new audit protocol that includes environmental considerations, management systems, and fire safety requirements in all sourcing countries.
  • Enrolled 15 suppliers in our Supplier Ownership Programme to help build capacity for maintaining and improving social and environmental performance.
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Driving supplier compliance and performance

Audit as a monitoring tool


Although we acknowledge that audits do not solve most of the challenges found at the factory level, they do provide vital information on how key aspects have to be addressed. They are a useful data-gathering tool that also keeps suppliers and production units aware of our expectations. We use two types of audits to make sure suppliers meet our requirements:

  1. 100% of our production units are audited for social and environmental compliance and performance at least annually, all new production units are audited before orders are placed, and corrective action plans are followed up in person for all production units.
  2.  Selected fabric mills have chemicals management audits and participate in our Sustainable Chemicals Management (SCM) Programme.

Audits are a key step in ensuring that suppliers are operating in keeping with our Code of Conduct, and they provide the basis for improvement planning. Our development officers and sustainable chemical specialists follow up with suppliers on any necessary corrective actions or longer-term improvements.

The path to sustainable supply chain leadership

With clearly defined targets, detailed standards, audit procedures, and strong audit partners, our sustainable supply chain programme is designed to move us beyond auditing concepts and towards supply chain leadership. The programme advances improvements in 10 important areas: 

  1. Governance
  2. Code of Conduct and Supporting Guidelines
  3. Supplier and Production Unit Registration and On-boarding
  4. Audit Programme 
  5. Rating and Performance Management
  6. Corrective Action Plan (CAP) Management and Remediation
  7. Capacity Building 
  8. Systems
  9. Organisational Structure and Resource Requirements 
  10. Impact and Reporting

Increasing resources in our sustainable supply chain team

In 2015, our Sustainable Supply Chain team grew from 35 to 101 people to include even more sustainable supply chain specialists and development officers who work with suppliers to improve standards and build capabilities. The team:

  • Provides new supplier training on the C&A Code of Conduct.
  • Helps suppliers build capabilities to meet our requirements over the long term.
  • Evaluates new production units and measures ongoing performance to make sure requirements are maintained.
  • Collaborates through engagement across functions like sourcing, buying, and retail to educate, align, and support the sustainable supply chain program.

Launching a global supplier Code of Conduct

We published our first Supplier Code of Conduct more than 20 years ago - in 1995. In 2015, we published a new global Code of Conduct as part of our commitment to raise standards across our supply network. We benchmarked ourselves with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) base code and Global Social Compliance Programme.  We also evaluated best in practice examples from other apparel players and consulted stakeholders to develop what we believe is a credible standard. From legal compliance and labour practices to environmental performance and anti-corruption, the code describes our minimum required standards and provides comprehensive guidelines. All C&A regions are implementing the code and making sure C&A teams and direct suppliers get training. We’re also introducing a global strategy for auditing suppliers in line with the Code. Read our global Code of Conduct.

Sustainability criteria to measure supplier performance

Our goal is to source 100% of our products from our top-performing, A-and B-rated suppliers by 2020. To help us get there, sustainability criteria make up 20% of the overall supplier ‘scorecard’ rating, alongside price, quality, delivery, and product execution. This approach, combined with long-term supplier relationships will help us to advance the leadership of our suppliers and their production units to be high performers.  New suppliers and production must be able to demonstrate they meet our sustainability criteria and, if needed, make improvements before orders are placed and they can begin to work with us.

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Supporting the development of high performing suppliers

How we rate suppliers

Each production unit is rated from A to E based on criteria aligned with our Code of Conduct. Our suppliers' factories that are rated A and B will have no serious violations. All new production units must at least meet a minimum C rating for our buying teams to place orders. Discovery of a critical issue like insufficient firefighting equipment or lack of fire drill will result in a D rating, while discovery of any zero tolerance issue will result in an E. A supplier’s rating is the average of its production units. However, if a supplier has one E-rated production unit, the overall supplier rating will become E. It is our policy not to place production orders with E-rated suppliers, although we work closely with them to address issues and to improve their ratings before new orders can be placed.

Examples of zero tolerance issues:

  1. Forced, bonded, indentured, prison labour
  2. Child labour
  3. Physical and/or sexual abuse
  4. Minimum wage violation
  5. Sandblasting
  6. Unauthorized subcontracting
  7. Unauthorized home working
  8. Denied audit
  9. Using banned chemicals listed on our Restricted Substances List and the Manufacturing Restricted Substances List
  10. Building safety
    • Multi-tenant buildings
    • Lack of building certificate/permit (building is not approved)
    • Structure and use of building are not aligned with the approved building plan
  11. Fire safety - Fire licence is not available, not valid, and/or does not cover the whole building

Building supplier capacity and ownership

To support our suppliers’ continued improvement, we began rolling out a supplier ownership programme to 15 key suppliers in 2015. These suppliers represent 15 production units and more than 25,600 workers. The programme provides support, tools, and guidance to help them take ownership for improving their practices. We will continue supporting suppliers to implement management practices that are sustainable over time, possibly even making auditing unnecessary in the future.

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Factory transparency and disclosure


of our suppliers' factories names and addresses have been disclosed in this report. 


Supply chain transparency - disclosing the list of our suppliers' factories

Today’s consumers want visibility into our supply network - and they’ve told us so. In 2015, we conducted our first annual global consumer survey of sustainability interests and perceptions. Across all our key markets, consumer feedback was clear: tell us where and how your clothes are produced.

We are planning to increase transparency into our operations and our supply chain in the coming years. As an initial step, we’re providing the list of the names and addresses of our suppliers' factories for all sourcing regions except for domestic production in Brazil and Mexico. The list includes first-tier cut and sew factories in 36 production countries.

All of our Brazilian and Mexican suppliers will be disclosed in 2017 along with other global second-tier suppliers like fabric mills, laundries and printers.

View our supplier's factories

Clean environment

Eliminating harmful chemicals, using less water, and combating climate change by reducing our carbon footprint are all central to our environmental focus in the garment supply chain. At the same time, we’re driving towards a circular economy—where we create endless loops of fibres and clothing in a fair and restorative manner.

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Highlights 2015


key fabric mills audited against our Sustainable Chemicals Management strategy.

Saved 115,000, tonnes of CO2e through our purchase of organic cotton.

30% of our purchased energy is renewable.

Safe & fair labour

Setting clear and strong standards for our supply chain, working with the best-rated suppliers, and taking a zero-tolerance approach on issues like fire safety, fair working hours and wages, freedom of association, and forced and child labour, are key to a responsible supply chain. We are addressing these and other challenges, which will also help to raise standards throughout the garment industry.

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Highlights 2015


of our suppliers achieved an A or B rating through our SSC programme.

Rolled out a new global Code of Conduct, training sourcing teams and suppliers worldwide.

Enrolled 15 suppliers in our Supplier Ownership Programme to build capacity for social and environmental performance.

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