Eliminating hazardous chemicals from our supply chain

In 2012, we committed to Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) and are working to eliminate harmful chemicals from our supply chain by 2020. By helping our production facilities improve their standards, conducting wastewater testing, and collaborating throughout the industry to promote system-level change, we can eliminate harmful chemicals from our supply chain. In 2015, independent Sustainable Chemicals Management (SCM) audits took place at 52 mills. An additional 50 wet-processing facilities will be audited against C&A standards and assessed for their use and management of hazardous chemicals by July 2016.

How chemicals are used to produce clothing

Chemicals are used throughout our products' life cycle, from the growing of raw materials like cotton to consumer use. In clothing production, dyeing, washing, printing, and treating fabrics for fire, odour, stain, water or wrinkle resistance can all involve the use of chemicals.

C&A—and others in the industry—can help to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals by:

  1. Specifying safe alternatives in our design and ordering process.
  2. Supporting factories and mills in developing the infrastructure and knowledge needed to understand which chemicals to use, selecting better alternatives, and how to manage chemicals safely in their operations. 
  3. Engaging with chemical suppliers to develop safer alternatives and keep harmful chemicals out of the final product and away from waterways.

How we manage chemicals in our supply chain

On our way toward zero discharge

C&A is a founding member of ZDHC—a coalition of 21 global sports, fashion, and outdoor brands with a shared commitment to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in the textile and footwear supply chain. C&A is working in six areas to create impact:

  • Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) and conformity guidance
  • Research on alternatives for chemicals that are on the MRSL
  • Development of a robust chemical audit protocol
  • Improvement of wastewater quality
  • Transparency of discharges to the environment
  • Factory training and capacity building


The latest version of the ZDHC Joint Roadmap, offers a clear and strategic effort to streamline the program in order to maximize impact and change. Initially released in 2011, the roadmap sets a clear path towards eliminating hazardous chemicals in the supply chain by 2020. The latest version of the Joint Roadmap can be found here


We have already eliminated the use of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in all regions, well ahead of the 2020 ZDHC deadline. We will continue to communicate the PFC ban across our supply chain whilst working with chemical suppliers to provide safer alternatives. The current approved PFC-free alternatives are listed here. We will also continue to update this list whilst working on case-studies to be published on SubsPort, the Substitution Support Portal. The ban of PFCs is communicated and controlled by the Restricted Substances List (RSL) and MRSL.


We have recently updated our chemical policies with the publication of the C&A Chemical Policy . For the first time, the RSL—regulating chemicals in the final product, and the MRSL—regulating chemicals in manufacturing processes, have been merged to simplify our message and deliver one standard to our supply chain. While the RSL is focused on product safety, the MRSL represents a list of chemical substances banned from intentional use in the supply chain and establishes concentration limits for substances in chemical formulations. The MRSL goes beyond the 11 priority chemical groups C&A have committed to eliminating by 2020, and we seek to update the MRSL, in accordance with the precautionary approach, on at least an annual basis. Interim MRSL conformance guidance can be found here, with an update expected by the end of 2016. Once available, we will work with our supply chain on providing the necessary training for rolling out the guidance.  

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Clean environment in our supply chain

Our Goal



discharge of hazardous chemicals.

Our way of working
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In 2015, we covered 


of our nominated fabric volume in Europe with our SCM programme.

Suppliers are central to our global sustainable chemicals management strategy

Meeting this goal in our supply chain is ambitious. But we believe we can make it happen by working together across the apparel industry to understand our strategy and why it is important for environmental stewardship and attainment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  As an important step, we recently launched our first global chemicals management strategy, which spells out how we’re guiding wet-processing suppliers in Bangladesh, China, India, and Pakistan so they can improve their chemical management systems, adopt best practices, and use safer alternatives. In June and July 2016, we’ll also include laundries and printers as we expand the programme to include more manufacturing activities and three more regions – Brazil, Cambodia and Mexico.

The initial two components of the strategy involve conducting wastewater testing and a sustainable chemicals management audit. The wastewater testing is conducted to identify any hazardous chemicals being used in the supply chain, whilst the audit assesses the level of on-site chemical management performance. Both are essential in the monitoring of actual implementation and progress towards our 2020 goal.

As part of our commitment to the Right to Know principle, we have published two reports:

  1. The Wastewater Discharge Trend Report—Detailing the analyses undertaken at 47 fabric mills with process wastewater, which represents 74% of our nominated fabric production. The report, broken down by sampling point and country, will allow stakeholders to monitor progress against our 2020 commitment.
  2. The Audit Findings Report—Taking a comprehensive look into the on-site chemical management performance of our supply chain across 52 of our largest fabric mills, covering 74% of our nominated fabric production. It identifies what types of issues exist in the supply chain. This is the first time facilities within the Tier 3 supply chain have been audited, as such; the level of awareness as a result of the audit is much higher around the requirements needed by 2020. When we understand our performance, we can continue to raise standards and work in partnership with our supply chain. This report will be updated publically so that progress can be measured.    

Both of these components address hazardous chemicals at facility level, meaning, even if hazardous chemicals are detected in wastewater that can be traced back to another brands production, we will still support the facility on the phase-out process in our support of the ‘clean factory approach’.

Along the way, we’re being careful to adopt a standard approach to helping suppliers make practical improvements. This includes:

  • Creating effective chemical procurement, management, and disposal systems.
  • Implementing the MRSL and helping suppliers develop plans tailored to individual mills to phase out hazardous chemicals.
  • Launching an in-person supplier training and development programme.
  • Hosting country-level sustainable chemicals forums with experts to discuss common challenges and best practices.
  • On-site assessments to review performance and identify improvement opportunities.

Our customers have the right to know where and how their clothing is made

With the publication of this report, we have disclosed 850 of our suppliers’ factories names and addresses across 36 of our production countries. The list represents first-tier cut and sew factories and vertically integrated factories. By April 2017 we will include suppliers like fabric mills, laundries and printers. 

As of May 2016, 76 of our wet processing facilities have disclosed their wastewater test results on the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) DETOX Disclosure Platform. Disclosure includes facilities across Bangladesh, China, India and Pakistan and includes 74% of our fabric sourced from our nominated fabric mills. In addition to DETOX disclosure, we are also working with IPE to screen our supply chain for environmental violations, including wastewater, and requesting facilities for a public response on corrective actions being undertaken along with implementation timelines.

Our goal is to have 80% of our wet processing facilities to disclose their wastewater test results on the IPE platform. By Q3 2016 we would have disclosed;

  • 74% of nominated fabric for C&A Europe
  • 50% of  vertically integrated production units
  • 35% of domestic fabric for C&A Mexico
  • 46% of domestic fabric for C&A Brazil
  • 30% of domestic fabric for C&A China
  • 70% of laundries for C&A Europe

By 2017 we are committed to disclosing the raw wastewater discharge results of;

  • 80% of nominated fabric for C&A Europe
  • 90% of vertically integrated production units
  • 80% of domestic fabric for C&A Mexico
  • 70% of domestic fabric for C&A Brazil
  • 50% of domestic fabric for C&A China
  • 80% of laundries for C&A Europe

We will continue to challenge ourselves to reach the 80% goal across our global wet processing facilities for all regions; Europe, Brazil, Mexico and China by 2018.

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Improving standards in chemicals management

We are one of the largest users of
Higg Index 3.0

developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.


Our way of working
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Our engagement with the chemicals industry led to


chemical companies developing MRSL compliant formulations. 

Raising standards where chemicals are used most

In line with our ZDHC commitment, we’re helping our wet processing units better manage chemicals. We recognize that too successfully drive and sustain change, at an industry level, a clear strategic plan is required. Our Strategy to Drive Change sets out our journey and steps needed to accomplish this.

As a result of our auditing we are adapting the support we offer each mill, in line with their level of knowledge and expertise. In this way, each mill can implement its own improvement plan, with regular support from us. To help them even more, we’ll publish common issues and solutions in a new Sustainable Chemicals Management handbook.

In 2016, the programme will extend to another 50 facilities. We are one of the largest users of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index 3.0 measurement tools pilot, which offer a holistic approach to environmental performance. By sharing results across brands, we can help to reduce the number of audits needed in the broader supply chain.

Looking ahead, we will help mills voice their concerns, ask the most successful suppliers to show other businesses how they’ve benefited from technical improvements, and share our findings with the industry. We will also begin ranking our suppliers, partially on their ability to comply with our chemical and environmental management criteria.


Working with the chemicals industry

Of course, the chemical industry plays an important role in eliminating hazardous chemicals and devising safer alternatives. Since 2012, we have engaged with major industry players in China, including chemical suppliers, industry associations, and government agencies. This work has led to 24 chemical companies distributing positive formulations lists and declaring their products to be MRSL-compliant. While these claims need more verification, we’re encouraged by this progress and plan to build on it in 2016.

Working to raise awareness, influence local legislations and create standards

In Brazil, we see a big opportunity to compel the fashion industry to manage chemicals more responsibly. With the Brazilian Technical Standards Association, we’re developing a comprehensive and voluntary standard, due in 2017. We’re participating in the steering group and sharing insights from our own work restricting and eliminating harmful substances across the world. The standard will draw from existing standards and its product list will cover 80% of the substances currently addressed by ZDHC.

In China, we have been working closely with the China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC), an industry federation which represents all textile related industries in China, on how to address the issue of hazardous chemicals across the Chinese supply chain. We have worked closely to raise the awareness of hazardous chemicals, we have supported several conferences for Chinese suppliers, in addition to, advising on the development of the Chemical Improvement Exchange (CiE) platform which will allow wet process facilities in China to upload their chemical inventory and cross check against the level of MRSL conformance. We also supported the launch of the Textile Sustainable Manufacturing Coalition (TexSMC); an alliance for textile enterprise and key stakeholders of the Chinese textile industry to move the supply chain towards sustainability.

We have also supported the dialogue with the China Dyestuff Industry Association whom is now working with their membership, alongside ZDHC, on integrating the MRSL standard.

In Bangladesh, our local Sustainable Chemicals Management team has been providing advice on development of the Standards and Guidelines for Sludge Management that will provide guidance on how to manage and dispose of hazardous sludge waste. This effort has directly led to the Bangladeshi Department of Environment seeking to upgrade outdated local legislation for sludge management across the country.  

How Circular Economy complements our Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals commitment

By 2020 aim to source 100% of our cotton from more sustainable sources that use less water, where the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers is little to none. Currently, 40% of our cotton collections are produced with more sustainable cotton using either organic or Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton.

In addition, we are embarking on an exciting journey to create a circular economy in the apparel industry. A journey that will see the move away from the make, use and dispose economy to one that allows us to keep resources in use for as long as possible. We will be partnering with the C&A Foundation to create a hub focused on incubating and accelerating technologies that support the circular economy in the apparel industry. 

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Promoting water stewardship in our supply chain

Water use and protection

As the world’s climate changes and the global population grows, the world’s fresh water supplies - which represent just 2.5% of all water - are even more strained. More than one billion people already live in areas where water is scarce and, by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could face water shortages, according to the United Nations.

In the apparel value chain, water is primarily used in three areas: growing raw materials, the wet processing of clothes when fabrics are dyed and finished, and clothes washing by customers. With an estimated total industry water footprint of 141 billion cubic metres annually1, our industry must work together to reduce water use and protect water supplies from pollution.

In addition, water has the potential to be impacted most in apparel production through the pesticide runoff from conventional cotton farming and in the production and treatment of fabrics. From consumption to discharge, water resources must be managed sustainably.

Read more about our cleaner production projects.

Understanding our water footprint and developing our water strategy

Reducing these impacts is at the heart of our corporate water strategy, which we’re developing in 2016. We began this work in 2015 by getting an in-depth understanding of our cradle-to-grave water footprint with Aligned Incentives and our raw-material water footprints with the Water Footprint Network.

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Creating a more efficient production system

Optimizing resources and reducing impact

Investing in clean production can save water, energy, and carbon, while keeping harmful chemicals out of the environment. Two clean production programmes - the Better Mill Initiative (BMI) in China and the Partnership for Cleaner Textile in Bangladesh (PaCT) - also offer lasting benefits to our suppliers’ businesses and our own.

Elevating environmental performance in China

The Better Mill Initiative is a three-year collaboration between global fashion brands and Solidaridad, a non-profit organization. With an objective to improve sustainability among wet processing mills across the Yangtze and Pearl River Deltas in China, the project has already delivered impressive savings in its first 15 months. The project report is available here.

C&A has been closely involved since we helped found the initiative in 2013. Today, we’re working with five key suppliers to conserve water and energy, improve their chemicals management expertise, reduce waste, cut emissions, and improve worker health and safety. 

2.6 million M3

of water reduced

5,400 MWh

of energy saved

4,000 tonnes

of chemicals eliminated

€5.5 million


Clean textile techniques save 175,500 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year

Nearly two-thirds of the groundwater consumed in Bangladesh each year is used by textile wet-processors to wash, dye, rinse, and finish fabric. The factories can also affect the quality and availability of drinking water in local communities.

The Bangladesh Water Partnership for Clean Textiles (PaCT) is committed to a sustainable, competitive, and cleaner wet dyeing and finishing sector. Launched in 2013, the three-year project unites global fashion brands like C&A with industry associations, financial institutions, and community leaders to build local capacity. C&A Foundation is one of the lead sponsors.

Through training and on-site support, PaCT is introducing cleaner production methods to 52 factories and mills that supply to C&A. The programme helps mills access funding to invest in changes, which are in turn designed to pay for themselves in a short time. Since the project started, PaCT has delivered impressive results for even more environmental improvements:

14.2 million M3

of water saved per year

10.4 million M3

of wastewater per year

175,500 tonnes

of greenhouse gases avoided per year

€6.9 million

saved for the participating factories since the start of the launch

The cleaner production measures are easy to implement, and the return is very quick. We plan to implement more of these in the future.

Mohammad Kawsar Alam Sikder, General Manager, Fakir Apparels Ltd.

Environmental improvements in production units

In mid-2015, we started auditing our first and second tier production units against the new Code of Conduct, which benchmarks environmental requirements. For production units that have wet processes like garment washing, dyeing, and printing, we have additional requirements on waste and chemicals, that in some cases go above and beyond the industry benchmark. Information collected from the audits is used to set our baseline and inform future targets and improvement strategy.

Environmental impacts identified in our supply chain

BrazilEurope and ChinaMexico
Production units subject to environmental impact assessments8611,6929
Production units identified as having significant negative environmental impacts772271
Environmental impacts identifiedLack of, or non-compliance with the waste management certificate

Lack of, or non-compliance with environmental license

Lack of community or environmental programmes

Lack of, or non-compliance with effluent treatment programme for production waste

Lack of ANVISA license

Lack of permission for effluent disposal

Lack of adequate program or initiative for the disposal of waste from wood chips

Lack of adequate program or initiatives for the disposal of used bulbs  
The majority of the negative environmental impacts were with regard to the handling, transportation and disposal of waste. Further non-compliances with significant impact include wastewater treatment or air emissions.Lack of waste water treatment

World Bank, 2007

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