India: “Let’s work together to find innovative solutions to the deeply-rooted problems of the apparel industry,” said Leslie Johnston, Executive Director of C&A Foundation, addressing the participants of the Textile Exchange Conference in Portland. The call was made during an event to launch the new global strategy of C&A Foundation, a private foundation affiliated with the global clothing retailer C&A.
“The apparel sector touches over 150 million people every day in some of the poorest countries in the world. It provides men and women with formal employment and has tremendous potential to be a force for good,” Johnston said. “Yet the industry has developed in a way that is no longer sustainable and the challenges are great. Together, we can change the way the industry works, but it won’t happen overnight. C&A Foundation is committed to fostering change in the long-term.”
In order to better leverage its experience, networks and long-time partnerships C&A Foundation –– which builds on a long history of private and corporate philanthropy –– recently consolidated its efforts under one global strategy. This new strategy, which Johnston outlined in her presentation, rests on three pillars:
Product, by helping smallholder farmers transition to more sustainable fibre;
Supply, by supporting factory owners to improve the environmental impact of their operations; and
Lives, by working to improve livelihoods across the apparel supply chain.
“We are one of many committed organisations working in this field, but we are working to empower other stakeholders to better address challenges so that, collectively, we can have more meaningful results,” explains Johnston. “Specifically, we are focusing our initial efforts on two areas: sustainable cotton and improved working conditions.”
Sustainable Cotton – In 2009, C&A co-founded CottonConnect, a social enterprise working to help smallholder farmers transition to more sustainable cotton farming. Since its creation, CottonConnect has expanded its activities to support more than 20 retailers to source cotton from over 130,000 farmers across India, China and Pakistan, who have since reduced their chemical input and water use. As a shareholder and donor to the organisation, C&A Foundation supports CottonConnect in transitioning conventional farmers to certified organic cotton, ultimately improving their incomes and livelihoods.
Improved working conditions – C&A Foundation designed and piloted the Sustainable Supplier Programme (SSP), an initiative aimed at improving productivity in garment factories, deepening worker dialogue and ultimately channelling some of the ensuing value back to workers. In the spirit of its open source approach, the foundation is currently sharing the results of the programme – both positive and negative – with other stakeholders.
“We are inspired by the number of platforms and actors working for a fair and sustainable apparel industry. We hope to use our resources and convening power to help our partners to do even more,” says Johnston. “For me, this is about human dignity and what we can do together to improve livelihoods across the supply chain.”