Philip Chamberlain – C&A

Philip Chamberlain (already working 40 years for C&A!) is on European level responsible for all stakeholder engagement.  Also partially present, the country Director of C&A Belgium/Luxembourg. C&A

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C&A Europe is operating in 21 European countries, we have about 1575 stores, take care of 37500 employees.  We are also operating in other parts of the world, like Brazil, Mexico and China.  We have regular contact with the other business units, because when we make statements about C&A, it is in name of the complete brand, not only C&A Europe.
We make fashion

In Europe, C&A has two buying centers, Vilvoorde and Dusseldorf, from there the buying for all of the 21 European C&A organizations is done.  We have designers, fashion coordinators, people who attend all the fashion shows.  Every season they come together to decide on color, the looks that will come, and to plan our retail calendar. This is a very deep and complex process.  After the design part, the individual buyers manage relationships with the suppliers.

New styles are arriving in our shops every day, making sure the latest things are available.

Good atmosphere

It is part of our culture to be friendly, it is the way we do business, C&A is a family held company, but our personnel carries the backbone of the company.

Engagement at all levels

The Belux country management team has 5 people.  We have discussion on how business is going, explain what we try to accomplish, show our values.  Obviously there are many other meetings, and every day at every store, the store managers meet with the staff and have a ‘ochtendpraatje (morning talk)’.  They go over the results, share great customer experiences, … They seek how they can learn from one another, how to make the customer happier.  Everything in our company is focused on interactions and seeking to be the best, but in our C&A way.

Personnel is the most important asset

Our people are our most important asset: without the commitment of our people, C&A would not exist.  We have excellent salary packages, but more importantly, we are working on keeping everybody engaged.  We spread that under the heading Caring & Amazing.

With Caring & Amazing we engage them in the process of the company, not only in business growth. We talk about our values, the actions we are taking, and how it translates into excellent customer experiences.  At the end of the day, the customers are the king: every day they drive the things that happen here.

We have a very active HR department that organizes all kinds of trainings and developments.  Our performance review system focusses on the seven core values of our business alongside the business performance.

Value driven company

When we talk about C&A, it’s not only about the numbers, it is about the values as well.  These values are mentioned on our website, they all start with ‘I will ..’.

One of our values says ‘I will not accept waste’: waste is a mentality, not only because it costs money, but it makes C&A not environmentally acceptable and not as strong as it could be.  The stronger we can be as a company, the better we can treat all people, the better we can serve our customers.

I will be open’ tells us to accept other points of view, we should seek the positive in new ideas, use differences of opinions to bring out the best. In total there are 7 values, and they are not only words on papers, we also show how to make them real.

Tell the story internally

We have a long way to go in telling this story, not only to the outside world, but also to the inside world.  We need everybody to be engaged at the end.  In October 2011, everybody who wanted to contribute to the story could put his/her signature on a big cloth with the company logo.  Everybody signed up!  Believe it or not, the feedback was incredible, so many people saying ‘I did not know we were doing’ this or that. That day was a triggering tipping point.

Being a family business, we’re traditionally not being active in telling the story.  We still are very careful about the stories we share. In no way we want people seeing us as greenwashers.  It has to be authentic, it has to be something we have actually done, measured…

Personnel needs to grow

The Caring & Amazing is part of a process of treating our personnel in a decent way.  We are a family business, and everyone working here is part of that family.  C&A acknowledges that the most important thing is that the people are growing.  The word we use is flourishing, people need to grow in their own way.  This growing involves understanding what our business is about, getting better in their jobs, making people more aware of the world around them.


We are first and foremost business people looking after a sustainable and profitable business.  C&A celebrates its 174 years in business.  That in itself is a very good model of sustainability.

Volunteer work to educate personnel

There’s a link between our people and our foundations: e.g. every employee in C&A Brazil can volunteer at a school and some of these hours spent are paid as if they are working in the store.  As they get used to it, and get more excited, they usually start doing it in their own free time.

We have a lot of sales people having their first job at C&A.  We teach them at the job how to show up on time, how to wear a uniform, how to work hard, …  We also show them that life is bigger than work, that they should give back to their community.

Let there be light

Lighting in our stores accounts for about 50% of our energy bill, and in the buildings, we are gradually installing a system called elita, developed together with Philips.  With this system we save roughly 18% of our lighting costs.  With the long term view the company is able to take, we can gradually modify all of our lighting systems.


Some years ago, we learned about the impact of sandblasting on the health of the workers in Turkey.  Together with H&M and Levis, we announced that we could not support the use of sandblasting in our supply chain, and that three alternative methods are available to create the same sort of look without being dangerous.

These methods have no impact on the cost, it is something we were able to install without disrupting the business.  Our audit team, specifically looks in the factories to see if sandblasting units are present.

Auditing & Capacity building

After 15 years of auditing, our audit team still finds too many issues, showing that auditing on its own does not solve the issues.  You have to do capacity building at the same time.  In the last two years we have stepped up the amount of time that our auditing team devotes to capacity building.

We have a team of local people that can address the issues in the local language.


It is not a perfect world, and our issues are pointed out in our sustainability report.  We cannot address everything, we try to focus on particular topics such as water, growing organic cotton, education of children, working with wider stakeholder groups to see how we can feed in our own knowledge.

Organic cotton

The journey on our organic cotton started in 2004, organic cultivation does not allow the usage of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.  Cotton is a dirty crop in terms of its abnormal use of those harmful things, it is also a very thirsty crop.  We decided that the organic cotton route would be the way to go for reducing the amount of chemicals used in our supply chains.  Cotton is roughly 60% of the products we sell; today 40% of our cotton is already certified as organic, the world crop is about 1% organic.

With the support of the board of the company, we have a strategy of reaching further improvement by 2020.  We are aware of the fact it will not be possible to have all crop organic, so we are working with others to see how we can reduce the amount of chemicals used in the non-organic supply chain.

Customer decides

The consumer is the decider in what is right or wrong, a consumer won’t buy a garment necessarily because it is organic, he will buy it because it suits what he wants.  We do not pass the premium for the organic route onto our consumers: if you were to compare jeans, we sell both organic and non-organic, with similar styles, at the same price.  We are investing to make a critical mass of our consumers aware and involved.


More than 4,5 years ago there was an article appeared in Germany which said that most cotton coming out of India was not certified organic, but GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms), which cannot be used for organic.

But C&A´s test results received based on a representative range of certified bio products have found no evidence that GM seeds were used during cultivation.

The garments are certified against either OE 100 or GOTS standards, neither of which allows the use of GM seeds, pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

C&A works closely with certifying companies and partner organizations to do everything possible to safeguard the integrity of organic cotton merchandise. C&A also has at that time set up additional internal improvement processes to enhance the aspect of traceability, in order that we can demonstrate due diligence throughout the whole organic cotton value chain.

Transform the cotton world

With the Shell foundation, we are in the Textile Exchange, a partnership to help us navigate the organic supply chain.  Whatever we do, it is never going to be enough to address the other 99% non-organic cotton.  We have to do something more.  For this, we established the Cotton Connect company, the tagline of this company is ‘helping transform the worlds cotton for good’.

In India alone, we (via partners who have the expertise) have trained 20000  farmers in our organic cotton cultivation methodology and our more sustainable cotton growing methods.  In October 2011, we publicly disclosed we will do the same thing for cotton made in Africa, an initiative of the Aid by Trade foundation in Germany.

At the same time we acknowledge that we can do other things in terms of education, not only for the farmers, but also for their children.

Building schools

With one of our partners in India in Indore, I asked what was going to make a difference on top of the fact that we are buying their cotton. Our partner said “a school since there are 20 villages on whom my farming community is based, and there is only one school. Our family will be prepared to offer the land, if you via your foundation will be constructing the school. “

In the summer of 2011, there were 250 kids in that school, and we will be able to accommodate 1000.  The attendance of the kids is about 100%  every day, parents realize that their kids have a chance themselves never had.  For the moment, we have 6500 children in primary school education in schools built by C&A, and in many cases also financed by the C&A Foundation.

Setting up Vocational Training Centres

One of our partners is professor Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh, with whom we opened a flagship vocational training center in January 2013 which will train between 1500 and 2000 students in various crafts such as electrical wiring, plumbing, tailoring.

In Bangladesh, the clothing industry is the most significant, and there were a number of catastrophical fire incidents in factories in the recent years.  The cause every single time is electricity due to poor wiring.  We hope by educating youngsters, we are in a position to  prevent some of the fires.

Working with Universities

We work with the university of Twente with Prof Arjen Hoekstra who is well-known on the issues of water management, he gave us the methodology to measure the water footprint in the supply chain.

We are also working with the university of Bejing in China, prof Humbal Lu to see how we can contribute.  In China we are not only talking about the quantity of water, but also about the quality.

Water footprint

Measuring the water footprint is a huge task. In our multi -year project we are now at the stage of collecting the data.  We will then be able to superimpose our water usage over the global map.  Like that, we can look where we are using too much water and where the water is under stress.  After that, the academics will offer policy choices for us to choose from.

In Bangladesh we have been doing some very simple, but efficient, things with water. In India we set up a system for water harvesting abilities, so that when it rains, it is possible to collect that water and get it purified to drinking quality.

Life Cycle Analysis via Sustainable Apparel Coalition

We are member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (  This initiative is launched in 2010, and we are one of the circle founding members together with  41 other partners, mainly brands and retailers  Quite unique is that also NGO’s, environmental protection agencies and academics are also represented.

The brands involved account for roughly 30% of the world’s total clothing services.  End October 2011 we started testing each of the founding circle brand members on what we call the Higg Index, a Life Cycle Analysis tool.   The tool will allow us to measure the social and environmental footprint of our products, from the very beginning till disposal. For the first time, a consumer will be able to compare directly retailer with retailer, product with product.

Labels, labels, labels…

For the moment, we face more than 400 different standards in our industry.  We are not reinventing the wheel, the SAC coalition identified which can considered to be the best ones.  We have then pulled over best practices into one methodology.

This involves a huge stakeholder engagement.  We started with the Nike design tool, recognized in the industry to be the best.  Timberlands Eco Index measuring activities along the supply chain is also thrown in the mix, together with GSCP, the Global Social Compliance Program

We are trying to simplify the jungle of labels. Within this group, there is a real will to pull this off. Needless to say that there are queues of people who want to join the initiative, not only brands and retailers, but also other manufacturers, NGO’s, other academic institutions. This is great, and we want to make it open source in the end, so that everybody can join in.

The whole industry must change

It is acknowledged that our industry is the second biggest polluter of water on the earth, this is something we can’t be proud off.  It is something that we are aware off and we want to do something about it.

How did it start?

Clemens & August

It started with Clemens & August, 174 years ago, the way they ran their business.  The way they treated their customers, when they started the company.

They were going from door to door selling cloth, textile to farmers in Holland.  Only 20 years later, they open up a store, and then, it was still tailored clothing.  Years later, they realized they could create ready to wear clothing with sizes. The idea of having standard sizes was, amongst other things, and idea C&A created.

Being able to sell a jacket at no more than two weeks wages was a revolution, the whole idea of value for your money.  They were inspired by their faith, and by the way they were raised: hard work, treat people fairly, be commercial, but know where you come from.

Corporate Responsibility: DNA of the company

The long term commitment of the family to issues with respect to Corporate Responsibility (I take for the moment the word Social out, because it is much wider than that) has been distilled for 172 years.  So, it is a starting point, it is the DNA of the company for anybody working here.

An interview of a bit more than one hour and a half, stacked with information and passion.  More than ones, my eyes became teary…

Franky De Cooman

Met dank aan Mieke De Pril en Evelien De Cooman voor de redactie.

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