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Responsible sourcing of materials for our products

Our success in the marketplace relies on responsible behaviour and good corporate citizenship.  One of these responsibilities is the maintenance of high environmental and social standards within the supply chain.  We continually review our approach to ethical and sustainable supply chain management since it is vital that our relationships with business partners and suppliers are aligned with our approach to CR. 

We have developed a detailed Supplier Code, which outlines the expectations we have of our suppliers. The Supplier Code, which was piloted in 2015 and launched globally throughout 2016, is based on international standards and, in the absence of such standards, accepted good practice. The Code covers labour practices, environmental management, responsible sourcing of materials and products, and business conduct. It also contains requirements around human trafficking and forced and bonded labour.

We engage with our suppliers and partners around the issues outlined in the Supplier Code, and have developed a due diligence and review protocol for our procurement teams to use in assessing supplier credentials.

We have undertaken a risk assessment to identify the areas of highest risk both in our own business operations and in those of our supply chain.  We have mapped our operations and those of our supply chain to identify particular industry/sectoral risks as well as risks from their geographical location. To identify particular country risks, we have taken account of a number of external benchmarks and indices in our risk assessment process, including the UN Human Development Index, ITUC  Global Rights Index, Freedom House Freedom in the World Civil Liberties, UNICEF  % of children aged 5-14 years engaged in child labour, US State Department Trafficking in Persons, and Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.  Our assessments are reviewed on a regular basis.

The risk assessment helps to focus our efforts on internal communication and employee training and supports the rollout and monitoring of the Supplier Code across all our companies, with an initial focus on the higher risk areas of our business.

The Supplier Code was introduced to our suppliers in 2016. Our key suppliers (large volume in areas of high risk) were introduced to the Supplier Code by means of a one-day workshop, hosted by our local Coats site. Following the workshops, suppliers were required to conduct a gap analysis of their own procedures and practices against the Coats’ Supplier Code.  They were asked to report back to Coats with their analysis, denoting areas of non-compliance and providing an action plan for improvement. Our procurement teams monitor the implementation of the plan and provide hands-on advice and support for each of our key suppliers.   The Supplier Code was communicated to our medium risk suppliers verbally, by either phone or at a face to face meeting with procurement.  Low risk suppliers have been sent the Supplier Code by email. 

By the end of 2017, 97% of our suppliers were informed about our Supplier Code and suppliers representing over 45% of our total spend have attended the one-day workshops.

A review of Supplier Code adherences also forms an integral part of our routine reviews of supplier performance. We have also reserved the right to audit our suppliers and partners, to the furthest extent permitted by law and any contract we have in place, to ensure compliance with the Supplier Code (see audit outcome update below).

In the event that we become aware of any supplier company acting in contravention of the requirements in our Supplier Code, we reserve the right to demand corrective actions or ultimately to terminate the business agreement.  Check out our supplier engagement case study for more information on our 2017 activity.

We realise that the risks to our business will continually evolve and we will continue to review our approach to responsible sourcing.   

We will continue to raise awareness across the business on modern slavery issues and ensure that all our key employees continue to receive refreshed training on ethics including the issues around slavery; to this effect our internal communication and training materials will be reviewed and updated accordingly.

During 2018, we will continue the engagement with our suppliers, providing support and guidance to ensure adherence with our Supplier Code.  To this effect, we will be revisiting our processes to continue raising awareness within our supply chain and to ensure our suppliers have the most effective measures in place to mitigate human rights issues, including slavery. Our procurement teams, who are reviewing the self-assessment questionnaires completed by suppliers, will receive further training to ensure that all self-assessments have been reviewed and any non-compliances have been assessed and followed up appropriately. Any ‘critical’ non-compliances will be dealt with as a priority by the procurement teams. We will collect key performance metrics from supplier audits to keep track of the number of non-compliances and ensure these are resolved and closed as soon as possible.

Sustainable products

Not only do we consider the direct impacts of our product manufacture, we also look at the indirect impact throughout the whole lifecycle of their sourcing, development and use.  As a result, we are increasingly using recycled and sustainable materials in our product development and increasing the proportion of recycled material used in our packaging.  The average proportion of packaging made from recycled materials continues broadly in line with previous years  at 57% in 2017   (58% in 2016).  For some of our packaging this proportion rises to over 85%. 

During 2017, we developed and launched the first ever 100% post-consumer recycled core spun thread, under the EcoVerde brand family. Coats Epic EcoVerde and Gramax EcoVerde are premium and high performance recycled polyester sewing threads. Made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic (PET) bottle flakes, the EcoVerde range is suitable for use in the manufacture of garments from recycled polyester fabrics or materials.


For leading fashion brands reputation and consumer trust are paramount in preserving brand value. Yet counterfeiting and fraudulent use of merchandise continues to undermine the assets of global brand leaders.  To help prevent counterfeiting and ensure specification adherence, Coats has developed and marketed a new thread ‘Epic Verifi’ to provide a new level of brand integrity . The system allocates a unique code to the sewing thread.  With a special code reader, the garment can be verified at any stage of the garments life to confirm authenticity or to ensure thread specifications have been adhered to.

In December 2017 Coats bought a company in the US called Patrick Yarn Mills Inc.  The company had built a successful reputation for spinning quality yarns made from recycled and Earth-friendly fibers.  Their earthspun range for example takes recycled material from plastic (PET) bottle flakes and creates yarns for industrial use.  In addition, the company has installed one of the largest privately owned solar installations in the US and hence their yarns are literally Spun by the Sun.

Conflict minerals

We are committed to the responsible sourcing of all raw materials that go into our products and of all the finished goods that we buy.  ‘Conflict Minerals’ are those minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict or human rights abuses, where the proceeds of sale can often be used to support war and cruelty.  This is most prevalent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and adjoining countries.  Coats does not tolerate such abuses and has a strict policy against the purchase of Conflict Minerals.

To ensure that our products remain conflict-free, and to meet our own supply chain standards, we follow best practice as defined by the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative and meet the requirements of all legislation with regard to this issue, specifically the Dodd-Frank Act in the USA.

Product safety

We are committed to ensuring the safety of our end consumers when using our products.  As a result we continually take feedback on product performance and are working with our suppliers to ensure the safety of our raw materials and product components. 

Coats’ Product Safety programme ensures that all products supplied to the customer are safe to use and do not contain any potentially allergenic or harmful substances.  The programme is underpinned by rigorously enforcing our Coats Restricted Substance List (CRSL), which is now in its thirteenth year of operation.

Our CRSL is drawn from the current legal regulations and directives in all of the countries in which we operate, as well as our customers’ and brands’ own restricted substances lists.  It extends to some 800 chemicals and 160 restricted dyes and all of our suppliers are required to comply with it.

In 2016, we split the potentially hazardous substances into two separate lists to make our requirements clearer for our suppliers and thus make our Product Safety program more robust:

  • A Coats Product Restricted Substance List (CPRSL), which states the absolute concentration limits that cannot be exceeded in our final products.
  • A Coats Manufacturing Restricted Substance List (CMRSL) which defines the limits which our raw materials and process chemicals must meet before entering our manufacturing process.

We continue to update our CRSLs to make sure they incorporate the requirements of all the major internationally recognised human toxicology standards (for example REACH, OEKO-TEX®, CPSIA, ZDHC).  The CRSLs are rigorously enforced and, where necessary, extended to reflect tightening commercial and legal limits for dangerous substances.  We believe this is the most comprehensive RSL programme in the textile industry and it has been referenced by other organisations as best practice.

In 2017, we contacted all our chemical and raw material suppliers asking them to confirm compliance with our updated CMRSL, setting out the substances that are restricted or banned from all goods and materials sourced by Coats.  This compliance process is repeated every year. We rigorously apply the CMRSL to all Apparel & Footwear  products, to ensure that all products we supply to our customers are fit and safe for the required end-use and are within predetermined limits of any potentially hazardous substances.

Our aim is to maintain zero incidence of product safety related issues.  Out of over 18 million order lines during 2017 we had no justified health and safety related complaints involving our products. We continue to review the risks associated with our existing and new product lines and take account of safety issues in new product development.

We have also worked with partners to develop new products to enhance the health and safety of our end consumers.  Read more about our personal protection products in our product safety case study.   

Product provenance and traceability

We have strict controls over raw material and product distribution across our sites.  We commission independent testing of our end products according to the Standard 100 by Oeko-tex®, checking for harmful substances which may have entered the production process at any point in the supply chain, not just in our own facilities.  The Oeko-tex® tests are tailored to meet the intended end use of the material.  The more intensively a textile or thread comes into contact with the skin (and the more sensitive the skin), the higher the human ecological requirements are to be met.

Successfully tested products are allocated to four different product classes.  Coats products are tested to the highest levels and fall into the most stringent classes I or II:

  • Product class I:  Textiles and textile toys for babies and small children up to the age of three, e.g. underwear, romper suits, bed linen, bedding, soft toys etc.
  • Product class II: Textiles which, when used as intended, have a large part of their surface in direct contact with the skin, e.g. underwear, bed linen, terry cloth items, shirts, blouses etc.
  • All of our Apparel & Footwear thread (A&F) facilities produce Oeko-tex® certified products.  During 2017, all 40 of our A&F facilities were re-certified by Oeko-tex® , and produce Standard 100 by Oeko-tex® Class I products.

Coats commits to ZDHC Programme

In May 2016, we joined the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Programme which aims to scale efforts to eliminate hazardous chemicals from the global footwear and textile supply chain. Launched by six leading brands in 2011, the Programme has since grown to 23 signatory brands, 50 value chain affiliates, and 14 associates. Coats is a value-chain affiliate.  

Animal welfare and broader supplier standards

Although we source very little animal derived materials for our products (<0.03%), we are committed to ensuring that no animals are caused unnecessary pain or suffering in the creation of our products and raw materials.  We expect high standards of animal welfare and will only work with suppliers throughout our supply chain that have a good track record in this area.

Our Animal Welfare Policy covers all products and raw materials we buy, but special attention is given to Angora and Merino wool as they can raise specific ethical concerns.

All Coats suppliers, and their suppliers, are expected to meet the standards contained in both our Supplier Code and this Animal Welfare Policy.  If we find that any of our suppliers do not meet these standards, we are committed to finding alternative sources, or working with the supplier to find alternative husbandry techniques.


Corporate Responsibility case studies

Integrating our approach to Corporate Responsibility across our business operations

Read all case studies