Business overview — A leader in organic cotton

With 1,575 stores in 20 European countries and more than 35,000 employees serving two million shoppers each day, C&A Europe is one of the continent’s leading fashion retail businesses. Within C&A’s global business, our European region has been a centre for sustainability leadership and knowledge sharing. The region is leading the way in designing more sustainable clothing collections, eliminating harmful chemicals, and driving supplier responsibility and transparency. Many of C&A Europe’s environmental and social improvements—in our products and our supply chain—can be adapted to our other regions. C&A Europe is also currently the world’s largest user of organic cotton. Along with C&A Foundation, the region also supports the Organic Cotton Accelerator, a multi-stakeholder initiative focused on building a prosperous organic cotton sector that benefits everyone—from farmer to consumer. 

Sustainability perspective

Like our other regions, C&A Europe can help conserve natural resources and protect the environment by ensuring our products are created with more environmentally sustainable methods. Because we use more cotton in our products than any other fibre, cotton is our primary focus for sustainable sourcing—especially organic and more sustainable cotton.

Greater sourcing transparency is important throughout our multi-tiered supply network, and driven largely by our European region. Most of the products for C&A Europe are made by suppliers in developing countries. Labour conditions, worker safety, and the use of toxic chemicals in wet processing can all be problematic in these locations. Additional country-specific issues require more targeted and tailored approaches.

Understanding our customers’ perspectives on sustainability is key to helping them look and feel good when they wear sustainable fashion. In Europe, our 2015 research shows that 40% of our customers ‘sometimes’ buy sustainable clothing, although this is likely to increase in the next years.

C&A Europe’s progress against the global sustainability strategy

Sustainable products

We aim to inspire designers and entrepreneurs to bring fresh thinking to their creations and find new ways to address pressing challenges. In 2015, we asked students at the Jean School International in Amsterdam to help us reimagine the future of denim, one of our most popular products.

More sustainable clothing

As the world’s largest user of organic cotton, C&A Europe looks for opportunities to introduce even more sustainable cotton to HER, our customer. Our 2015 Spring Kids Brochure featured more sustainable clothing for children of all ages, including a new baby collection certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard. Beyond agricultural improvements in growing cotton, we also want to reduce the impacts of producing cotton clothing. In 2015, C&A Europe launched a line of jeans that use 65% less water in finishing, which is the final denim washing during production.

We’re also eliminating harmful chemicals from our clothing production. All C&A Europe products sold after 1 January 2015 are free from perfluorinated compounds, and chromium is being eliminated from our leather tanning. And beginning with our 2016 autumn/winter collections, C&A Europe has committed to selling only down clothing that has been certified to the Responsible Down Standard, an independent global standard that encourages best practices in animal welfare.

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Circular economy

Starting in the Netherlands, we are stepping up our focus on recycling clothes by encouraging our customers to donate old clothing in any of our 133 Dutch stores. Our partner I:CO sorts and reuses or recycles the donations. 

Sustainable supply

Most of C&A Europe’s suppliers are based in Asia, where there are specific challenges to supply chain sustainability. We created a single set of requirements for all suppliers in 2015 by publishing a new global Code of Conduct. In Germany, we also joined the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles to help raise standards across the textile supply chain.

Clean environment

C&A Europe is working to strengthen environmental practices in its supply chain as well. The Better Mill Initiative is a three-year collaboration between global fashion brands and Solidaridad, a non-profit organization, to improve sustainability in wet processing mills. The Bangladesh Water Partnership for Clean Textiles (PaCT) is committed to a sustainable, competitive, and cleaner wet dyeing and finishing sector. This 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.

We also consider the environmental impacts of our logistics practices. The vast majority of our products are brought to Europe by container ships. When they arrive, we send them mainly by rail or barge to a central warehouse for consolidation. From there, they go to each country's distribution centre, where trucks collect deliveries for individual stores. In exceptional circumstances, such as production delays or unexpected weather, we may need to move products faster. In these cases we use air freight, but we keep this to a minimum as it is costly and carbon intensive.

Store carbon footprint

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In 2015, we transformed our store in the Dutch city of Zaandam, creating a sustainable blueprint for our other European stores to follow. With retail property expert Redevco, we installed energy-efficient lighting, energy-saving escalators and water-saving technology – and improved the store’s insulation. A green roof featuring sedum mosses insulates the building, improves air quality, cuts flood risk, and nurtures insects and birds. The store also features water-saving taps and plumbing. We plan to develop a toolkit for our other European stores using this one as a best practice example so that new stores can achieve a 70% energy intensity reduction per square metre, compared to existing stores, and help us towards our global goal.

Safe and fair labour

C&A Europe continued efforts to improve fire and building safety in Bangladesh in 2015, and expanded our efforts to other production countries. The Bangladesh Accord has inspected 142 of our suppliers’ cut-and-sew factories in Bangladesh. Read more.

Sustainable lives

In 2015, we updated our Code of Ethics to reflect changes in society, and established a global set of requirements covering the attitudes and behaviour we expect of our employees.

In October, our first-ever global employee engagement campaign, ‘Inspiring Women’, brought together all our regions alongside C&A Foundation.

Employee volunteering

With Dutch social enterprise Women on Wings and C&A Foundation, we launched a pilot to share our business knowledge with garment companies in rural India. Read more.

Engaging customers

We’re committed to helping our customers live sustainably, and where possible, we invite them to join us on our sustainability journey. In 2015, together with C&A Foundation, we brought together employees and customers to support our new ‘Mothers Make the Difference’ partnership with Save the Children.

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