CSR hits the catwalkApril 2014
Jeannette Ferran Astorga, vice president of social responsibility at Ann Inc., gives Ethical Performance a glimpse into some of the fashion house’s latest sustainability program fundamentals
On International Women’s Day, U.S. specialty retailer Ann Inc., made public a commitment to provide 100,000 women working in its supply chain, financial and health education workshops. It is just the latest endeavor to give back to the communities where it does business. A vertically integrated operation, the New York-based women’s fashion firm operates 1,027 stores under Ann Taylor and LOFT banners in the U.S. and Canada. Its associate base is 94% women and its customers are 100% women, so it pays close attention to their needs and desires.
Can you tell us more about your commitment to women?
We have two signature programs that exemplify that. Our Responsibly Ann corporate social responsibility initiative centers on creating a better world for women through our social and environmental sustainable commitments. While our ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative empowers and invests in the next generation of female leaders across the U.S. Meanwhile ANN Cares has raised nearly $40 million since 2005 for women’s causes including funding breast cancer research grants, and has additionally contributed more than $16 million to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. In CSR, we have an opportunity everyday to connect with our clients and drive programs that align with her values.
What is the new 100,000 Women Initiative about?
This is an extension of our Responsibly Ann CSR program. It is intended to empower women by delivering in-factory health and financial literary training over the next five years. In conjunction with this Ann Inc. has become a signatory to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles, a set of guidelines that aim to advance women in their places of work and communities. We are the first woman’s specialty retailer to commit to these principles. We are devoted to creating a supply chain that supports women. We know that 70% of the workers who make Ann Taylor and LOFT products in our supply chain are women and this gives us a tremendous opportunity to have a positive impact on their lives.
Working conditions in garment factories are frequently under scrutiny. You source from about 133 suppliers from 17 countries. Can you tell us some ways you address safety?
We partner with global suppliers that share our values and follow our guideline standards for positive working conditions. We strongly believe that the quality of our merchandise begins with the treatment of the people who manufacture our products. We have developed a rigorous approach to training, monitoring, auditing and working with suppliers, all geared towards continuous improvement.
On its website, Ann Inc. outlines its guidelines that include providing a safe, healthy and clean workplace, designed to prevent accidents and injuries. Factories must comply with local laws. Suppliers cannot subcontract our products, without written approval. New Supplier Orientation meetings are held to discuss business expectations. If there are concerns about confidentiality, openness or retaliation, it will conduct interviews offsite. And both senior executives of the factory and the middle management are involved.
The company has also been progressive in energy conservation. What is the latest?
In 2013, we achieved a carbon footprint reduction of 20% per square foot, and have set a new goal to reduce our footprint by 30% by 2015. Our stores make up 92% of our overall carbon footprint. We have installed over 50,000 energy efficient LED lights in almost 400 stores. This new lighting is 72% more energy efficient than our previous bulbs. The lights also emit less heat and reduce the burden on our air conditioning systems.
Our ANN Conserves Energy (ACE) program focuses on improving energy efficiency in our stores through associate behavior changes. We provide training to more than 20,000 store associates on how to conserve energy through lighting, temperature control and equipment uses. ACE provides reporting on each store’s progress so that associates can track their performance against historical data and other stores in their division.
What about with your suppliers?
We believe our suppliers can realize numerous business benefits by driving energy efficiency at their facilities. Our Supply Chain Sustainability Program incentivizes our suppliers to perform energy audits and make pledges to reduce their energy use.
The company’s AT CONNECT platform provides suppliers from around the world with opportunities to share best practices. We regularly conduct energy efficiency seminars to help our suppliers understand the actions they can take and to drive sustainability in the business.
Ann Inc. has also prepared a brief reference guide on best practices for energy efficiency. Its starts with the basics – implementing energy reading meters on large machinery and recommends checking to see if any equipment is left running unused for 15 minutes or more – goes on from there.
We were the first women’s specialty retailer to join the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an industry group that works to reduce the environmental and social impacts of the apparel industry.
Anything you are particularly proud of?
The new 100,000 Women initiative, for if we can make factory jobs better and more responsive to women’s needs and wants, the empowerment benefits will multiply tenfold.
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