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Esprit Elevates Supply Chain Sustainability Commitments

In making progress on its supply chain sustainability goals, fashion retailer Esprit is focused on two things—people and the planet.

The company recently released its third sustainability report, where it shared a new holistic strategy that incorporates environmental and social aspects into its ongoing efforts. Along with the updated strategy, Esprit committed itself to four major imperatives—improving products and materials, transparency, fostering a cleaner supply chain and paying fair living wages. The company’s new strategy and will raise the bar on its sustainability commitments and contribute to a more circular fashion ecosystem.

“Last year we were able to achieve significant progress in our efforts toward an even stronger anchoring of the sustainability principle in our company. In this way, we get closer to our long-term goal of integrating sustainability into all business processes,” Esprit group CEO Jose Manuel Martínez Gutiérrez said. “On the basis of the updated sustainability strategy and our concrete commitments, we are confident that we will have an even bigger impact.”

Esprit, which operates 666 stores and 20 e-commerce shops worldwide, has achieved significant progress in all four imperatives over the past two years, due to its strategic partnerships with non-profit partners including Action Collaboration, CanopyStyle, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and Transformation (ACT). In addition to these partnerships, the retailer aims to expand upon the four imperatives below, while upholding ethical and sustainable measures in its business operations and greater supply chain.

Choosing more sustainable materials

For materials and products, Esprit is working on increasing its share of organic cotton and developing more eco-conscious products.  After receiving multiple industry certifications, including the Organic Cotton Standard, the Recycled Claim Standard and the Responsible Wool Standard, Esprit wants to boost its sustainable sourcing and animal welfare initiatives.

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Even though Esprit is already sourcing 10 percent sustainable cotton for its apparel and joined the BCI last year, the company wants to have 50 percent of its cotton derive from more sustainable sources by 2021. Esprit, which is a fur-free company, is working with Textile Exchange to develop the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) and to have 50 percent of its virgin sheep wool be sourced according to guidelines in the RWS by 2022. The retailer will also continue to ensure 100 percent of its feathers are sourced from companies that comply with the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). The Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) will also remain a crucial component of Esprit’s sustainability mission, by ensuring that more recycled materials are used in Esprit’s apparel production process.

Fostering transparency

To increase transparency, Esprit, in accordance with the Human Rights Watch Transparency Pledge, released a list of its direct subcontractors and suppliers. The company verifies the social performance of all of its suppliers annually, and evaluates suppliers’ sustainability efforts with a transparent supplier scorecard system. Launched in March, the scorecard system evaluates suppliers for their overall performance, looking at things like social standards, environmental standards and transparency. Esprit’s scorecard system weighs on the aforementioned factors and more traditional metrics, like on-time delivery, quality and price.

Making supplier lists public is also another key transparency milestone for Esprit. Last year, the retailer published its Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier list, enabling the public to see where its apparel was manufactured. Esprit said it’s working toward 100 percent progress in updating its map of Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers every six months, enabling all of its Bangladesh suppliers to implement safety improvements by the end of the year, and having all suppliers in the Business Social Compliance Initiative program (BSCI) system earn higher social compliance ratings. What is a C rating? Is that good or bad? What’s the scale? The BSCI is a supply chain management system that enables companies, including suppliers, to improve social compliance in their supply chains. The system assesses companies according to international labor standards, including International Labor Organization (ILO) declarations. The scale evaluates companies’ social compliance efforts from an A (outstanding) to E (unacceptable) based on these global social compliance guidelines. As part of its goals, Esprit would like to have all suppliers in the BSCI program achieve a C (acceptable) rating or higher by the end of June 2018.

[Read more on brands’ sustainability progress: H&M Bets on These Sustainability Innovators to Help it Dial Back Fast Fashion’s Impacts]

A cleaner, ethical supply chain

A cleaner supply chain is also part of Esprit’s new sustainability agenda. While most of the company’s wet process facilities are regularly evaluated, Esprit wants to have 50 percent of its wet process facilities audited for chemical management and environmental performance by the end of June 2018. To further this goal, the company launched a new auditing and training program for wet processing facilities to make the printing, dyeing and finishing process more sustainable. As a member of the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Group (ZDHC), Esprit is also working on its Detox Commitment—which involves eliminating hazardous chemicals, including dimethyl formamide (DMF) and implementing more water-based polyurethane (PU) in its products. The company also wants 100 percent of its wet processors to publish wastewater data by the end of April 2018—a goal made possible by using the Higg Index Brand Module for supply chain sustainability.

Establishing a fair living wage

As wages in the garment sector remain too low for most workers’ basic needs, Esprit is increasing the living wage for its workers. The company signed a memorandum of understanding with the non-profit IndustriALL Global Union to form Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT). ACT, a multi-stakeholder platform that works to increase industry-wide collective bargaining in apparel producing nations, will help Esprit’s workers have a say in their wages and is expected to encourage buying practices that enable workers to earn enough to live and support their families moving forward.