Caring for the environment
For many years, C&A is pursuing an ambitious policy of eliminating toxic chemicals from every aspect of our clothing – from the farm to the factory to our stores. So, naturally, all of our leather is chrome-free tanned leather. Chrome tanning – means adding Chrome salt to the animal skin, is still the main method used by 85% of tanneries – in part, because it is fast. But the hidden cost of chrome tanning is the potential for the non-toxic, stable Chrome (III) salts used in the tanning process to oxidize under specific conditions (heat and moisture) and become Chrome (VI), which is both highly allergenic and carcinogenic.
We knew there must be a better way. To begin with, we had to do our homework, carefully studying the research on different non-chrome methods, even looking into their water and energy consumption and wastewater production. We ended up as one of the pioneers in the field of alternative tanning processes.
Creating a role model
The result is that we now only allow two tanning processes for our leather. One is synthetic tanning, which uses the organic compound glutaraldehyde. The other process is vegetable tanning, which uses the tannic acids found naturally in bark, shrub clippings, olives, mimosa, etc. Vegetable tanning is a very traditional method, and it takes more time. But taking time to promote environmental and personal health is always time well spent.
Many colour dyes contain chrome, as well. So we also demand that our suppliers use only chrome-free, alternative dyes.
We are one of the first large retailer who has fully changed to chrome-free production. By doing so, we lead the industry by example, paving the way toward safe alternatives to chrome.
Caring for our customers
Policies are important, but without enforcement they are only words. So we see to it that our suppliers follow our rules, including our Code of Conduct, its Supporting Guidelines, and our Chemical Policy (Restricted Substance List/Manufacturing Substance List), which ensures compliance with the legal requirements and international standards in these areas.
For instance, we check our shipments of leather to ensure that they are chrome-free tanned. Chrome, of course, is a naturally occurring chemical element and vital for human life. Therefore small traces of non-toxic chromium such as Chrome (III) will always be found in human and animal skin. But to control that our leather is chrome free tanned (without adding Chrome salt), we use the strict total chrome limit value of 0.1% by weight (mass of chromium/total dry weight of leather) according to the definitions of European norm EN 15987:2015 – and we reject any shipments exceeding that amount.
We also inspect tanneries prior to their production of our leather. This is particularly important for avoiding cross-contamination in tanneries not specialized in the alternative tanning processes. Using professional, independent evaluators, our Sustainable Supply Chain Team conducts both regular and unannounced audits of our suppliers. Suppliers are expected to be open and cooperative, and to provide unrestricted access to complete and accurate records. Otherwise, we don’t buy from them anymore.
Working better together
We also actively work with potential suppliers to encourage them to move toward less-harmful tanning methods. By doing so, we are not only thinking of our own customers, but the customers of other companies as well – even those of our competitors! In partnership with The Leather Working Group, we work behind-the-scenes to promote better practices. Together, we can more effectively form environmental alliances with other companies and organizations, as well as with sectors such as the automotive industry – key customers for leather manufacturers.
C&A stores offer chrome-free leather goods. This year, we have also begun to conduct ‘social audits’ of our leather suppliers, to determine current labour conditions and arrange corrective action if needed. And we have published a detailed overview of the factories of our direct suppliers on our corporate website (www.c-a.com/supplier-list). Our goal is to expand our transparency all the way down the supply chain – very soon, customers will be able to trace their C&A leather products back to the tannery!
A holistic approach to care
At C&A, we believe that we are all responsible for our world, and for each other. And we act accordingly.
If you would like to learn more about how C&A is taking responsibility for better leather, other materials, the clothing industry, the environment and for a better future for all of us, please check out our 2015 Global Sustainability Report and our C&A Foundation website.
Global Sustainability Report:
The C&A Foundation:
We also care about animal welfare. For instance, we only accept leather from animals reared for meat production: all of our leather is a by-product of the food industry. In addition, C&A never uses any material from exotic, threatened or endangered species in our products. Nor do we knowingly use bovine leather from India, leather with hair attached from India or China, or any leather from Bangladesh.
Naturally, we also offer customers an extensive choice of non-animal based alternatives.