C&A Annual Report: Task ahead is daunting, but we can rise to the challenge

by Dheeraj Tagra

24-June-2019  |  7 mins read

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Image Courtesy: candafoundation.org

Fashion can be fair, sustainable and can enable people to thrive! With this thought, the C&A Foundation has just completed its five years and its work with more than 70 partners representing 11 countries is indeed bringing positive changes at the ground level.

C&A Foundation, an independently funded philanthropic organisation, is affiliated to global retailer C&A, and is working to fundamentally transform the apparel industry. C&A has more than 1,500 stores in Europe. Recently, the foundation released its 55-page-long annual report that highlighted breakthrough moments, learnings and detailed information about its result-oriented activities across the globe. Leslie Johnston, ED, C&A Foundation insists that there is a need to bring organisations together and use collective power, accelerate efforts, to spur new innovations and create new business models…

The circular fashion got the maximum share of the grant by C&A foundation (€12.4 million) to promote circular economy through 8 initiatives. C&A’s overall grant was €48.3 million (March-December) while in 2017/18 it was €61.7 million. The report substantiated this by stating “This is because, in 2016 and in 2017, we made significant upfront investments in the creation of Fashion for Good. Given the success of this new innovation platform, we have been able to take a step back and reduce the amount we invest in the initiative.” Looking forward, C&A Foundation is already planning its next All Partner Design Forum, and it has set up a Learning Fund to allow partners to visit one another and keep learning from each other’s work.

Interestingly in some of the cases, C&A foundation has also moved from campaign-specific funding to institutional support including fundraising, strategic planning, human resources, financial management and governance like in the case of Fashion Revolution, a global movement uniting people and organisations to work together to transform the way fashion is made and consumed. In Brazil, with Fashion Revolution, the foundation was able to start a national conversation about the power to transform both supply chains in Brazil and the lives of the 2.6 million people working there.

In 2018, India got the maximum funding by C&A foundation among all its other focused countries/regions. The foundation claims that 2018 marked a turning point in its efforts to boost the production of organic cotton in India; with its approach working and now getting vital recognition from the Government, the efforts seem to be paying rich dividends. Madhya Pradesh, where 24 per cent of the world’s organic cotton is produced, is the focus for the C&A as it reaches 28,241 farmers and notably there was an 81 per cent increase in farmers’ income. Its Cotton Trailblazers event proved a big step in this direction as it started to replicate its approach in other Indian states, to put sustainable cotton on the national agenda.

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At the factory level, 2 factories brought changes in their sexual harassment and grievance redressal policies in 2018, and 3 factories signed MoU wherein workers were guaranteed right to association, including one with India’s largest apparel exporter. Four Indian states advanced the enforcement of mandatory registry of mill hostels law.

Worker-powered transparency is also a big focus for C&A and in Indonesia, it supported Wage Indicator who built the transparency pages of Gajimu Garment, a website and app-based platform that encourages workers to give and receive information about working conditions and wages. In just a year, 5,300 workers have uploaded data, providing 94 factories with information on where potential problems lie. This has led to tangible improvements in 15 factories, which together employ 30,000 workers. Improvements include: strengthened collective bargaining agreements, contract workers given the option to become permanent employees, overtime becoming unforced and compensated, new unions taking shape in factories that previously had none, and workers enrolling onto health insurance and pension plans.

Apart from all such efforts, good result, the foundation shared various case studies and also highlighted where the efforts were missed. To help accelerate organic cotton cultivation in China – the world’s second largest cotton producer – C&A Foundation partnered with Rare, an NGO that uses human behaviour change to drive conservation results. “Neither we nor our partner conducted a comprehensive enough feasibility study to inform the initiative design. The context wasn’t well understood, the time frames set were unrealistic and efforts to bring brands on board happened too late. All of these factors meant that this potentially breakthrough approach fell short of the programme objectives,” The report reads and further adds it commissioned a deep-dive study to better understand the organic cotton sector in China.

In another such example, “Giving refugees a voice” was an innovative one-year pilot from its partner Equiception. It used social media monitoring technology to analyse the public Facebook posts of millions of Syrian refugees associated with the apparel sector in Turkey. “….This approach confirmed that many Syrian refugees were working in Turkish factories, but the whole programme had limited impact. Sharing the experience or observations of Transparentem in Bangladesh’s tanneries the report reads, “For C&A Foundation, it reinforces the need for a strong understanding of context and the possibility of unintentional results in the design phase of a grant.”

The insights given in report show that how C&A foundation and its partners are concerned about the fashion industry. Global challenges for a sustainable fashion industry are increasing but Leslie Johnston rightly says, “the task ahead is daunting, but I know that we can rise to the challenge. If we act now.”

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