US department store retailer JC Penney has expanded its emphasis on worker safety and training in its supply chain, as it reveals details from its latest corporate social responsibility report. 

All private brand suppliers and factory management teams are now required to complete a series of interactive, online training courses on topics such as managing wages and working hours, environmental protection, fire safety, subcontracting, ethical sourcing, and corrective action plans. Completing these mandated training courses is the first step required of a factory that wants to produce for the retailer. 

“In 2013 and 2014, we expanded emphasis on worker safety, adding content to our online curriculum and conducting in-person worker safety training sessions in multiple countries around the world for our private brand supplier base,” the retailer explains. “The training sessions provided education on topics including fire causes, safety equipment, best management practices and fire prevention.”

As a result, last year, JC Penney's private and exclusive brand sourcing covered around 32 countries, almost 400 suppliers, and around 950 factories. Additionally, around 949 initial and cycle social audits were carried out by Bureau Veritas. 

Anthony Curtis, senior director of international social responsibility for JC Penney, says the work on expanding worker safety training was borne out of its membership of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. As well as online courses, the retailer holds in-person events to help suppliers and factories build capacity to meet the standards.

“We have extracted additional best practices from the standards developed by the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and applied them globally through our social compliance process,” Curtis adds. 

As well as worker safety, JC Penney has turned its focus to cleaning up its supply chain of harmful dyes. 

“In 2014, we learned that Chinese environmental laws would soon prohibit the use of the powdered sulfur dyestuffs used in some of our woven essential twills,” says Shannon Chestnut, director of fabric research and development. “JCPenney teams accelerated the transition to cleaner alternatives through a process that illustrates the effective teamwork and strong relationships that are critical to our supply chain strategy, with at least five internal teams contributing their expertise to the process illustrated to the right.”

The retailer has been working to identify alternative dyes which meet aesthetic, financial, environmental, and regulatory requirements, and recommend these to selected suppliers. 

“This is only one example of how we adopt new technologies, materials or chemicals to improve safety and environmental performance, while maintaining quality and fashion-forward looks,” says Chestnut.

Additonally, JC Penney outlined its achievements with regard to energy, water and waste reduction. 

Between 2008 and 2014, the retailer reduced total energy usage by 19%, a cost avoidance of nearly $100m and a “significant” reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The company did, however, note that while successful in reducing energy consumption, it benchmarked its sustainability programme performance against its peers and external frameworks and recognised the need for “a broader set of goals to drive higher performance”. 

As a result, the retailer has adopted new 2020 goals, which includes a reduction in total water consumption of its US operations of 5% compared to its 2014 baseline, through a combination of “engineered solutions and behaviour change”. Between 2012 and 2014, JC Penney achieved total water reduction of 8%. 

The retailer has also targeted to recycle 85% of all waste generated by its US operations by 2020. It has reduced the total amount of waste by 43%, from 143,459 tons in 2011 to 81,629 tons in 2014. The group maintained a recycling rate of over 71% in 2014.

Click here to view the full report.