20. 05. 2015 Corporate responsibility

Achim Lohrie, Tchibo: We pay attention to quality, but also to the lives of producers

Tchibo focuses not only on the taste of their coffee but wants to protect the environment and improve the conditions of the farmers.

Achim Lohrie holds the position of Director Corporate Responsibility at Tchibo GmbH in Hamburg, Germany since April 2006. In this position, Mr Achim Lohrie is responsible for the continuous development, adaptation and implementation of sustainability programs for Tchibo within its business strategy “Future Needs Heritage” (environmental and social responsibility, integrity of the management, corporate governance and corporate citizenship). Among other things, he actively fosters capacity building for coffee and cotton farmers to achieve higher yields under environmentally friendly conditions and is involved in projects such as Coffee & Climate, ICP (International Coffee Partners) and Cotton made in Africa that promote education and training. Moreover, in 2007 Achim Lohrie together with the GIZ (German Society for International Cooperation) initiated the WE (Worldwide Enhancement of Social Quality) qualification programme in order to achieve long-term, lasting improvements to working conditions in non-food production facilities. On CEE CSR Summit he will talk you through how it is possible to transform a traditional business into a sustainable one – in this case he will focus on growing and producing coffee.

When people think of Tchibo, they usually think of a good cup of coffee. Interestingly, you offer sustainable coffee with fair prices and working conditions for producers. Why have you included such coffee to your offer to customers and what is the percentage of sustainable coffee you sell compared to conventional coffee?

We love coffee. And we have supplied our customers with great coffee quality for over 60 years. To ensure we can continue to meet these standards in the future, we focus on more than flavour and taste. We are also engaged in protecting the environment and improving the living conditions of the coffee farmers and their families in the equatorial “bean belt”.

On our way to achieving 100% sustainability in our business operations, our medium-term goal is to supply only coffee that are grown in equal compliance with ecological, social and economic standards, thus providing the coffee farmers and their families with a permanent livelihood. For us, this is the only way to guarantee the availability of the raw coffee quality we need over the long term.

We work with all internationally recognised standards organisations; these currently comprise Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, UTZ Certified and the organisations behind the organic food label under EU legislation. We adopt the baseline standards of the 4C Association Code of Conduct to organise coffee growers and raise their awareness of the benefits of sustainable coffee farming.In 2014, roundabout 35 % of our coffee was sustainably grown.

In your stores you also offer consumer goods. On your webpage you state that strict social and environmental rules are followed during production in the supply chain – from the raw material to the final products. What exactly do you track?

We are convinced that business success should not come at the expense of people and nature. Therefore, we pursue the goal of permanently improving working conditions at the factories that produce goods for Tchibo. Our Social and Environmental Code of Conduct (SCoC) is the foundation of all our business relationships and has been an integral element of all purchasing contracts since 2006. It defines minimum requirements for social and environmental standards in the production of our consumer products. Social and legal requirements, such as protecting the health of employees or conserving natural resources are firmly anchored in it.

Do always manage to provide decent working conditions and adequate wage?

While we use independent social audits to regularly review whether the requirements of our SCoC are respected, we have found that their effectiveness is limited because they are momentary snapshots that can uncover only clearly visible violations. To achieve long-term, effective improvements and to empower workers, we increasingly rely on factory training through our supplier qualification programme WE (Worldwide Enhancement of Social Quality). The programme promotes dialogue between equal partners by bringing managers and employees from the factories to the table with our buyers to jointly develop solutions for improving working conditions. To date, 320 producers have taken part in qualification measures or completed the WE programme.

What does the supplier qualification program stands for?

The products we offer must fulfil a wide range of requirements; they must be well-made, fashionable and durable. But for us, quality also involves responsible sourcing of raw materials, such as cotton or wood. For our garden furniture from tropical and boreal hardwoods, we only use FSC®-certified timber from responsibly cultivated forests. The same applies to most of our paper products. We continuously increase the share of responsibly farmed cotton used for our textiles; in 2014, responsibly farmed cotton accounts for around 70 % of our textiles made from or with cotton. Hence, we collaborate with partners that work globally to achieve the transition from conventionally to responsibly farmed cotton, for example Textile Exchange, Better Cotton Initiative or Cotton made in Africa.

Are people in the CEE region interested in sustainable coffee or products from eco-materials? Which country in your operational scale is the most advanced?

According to a Nielsen survey in 2014 (Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility 2014), 43% of Slovakian consumers have bought a product or service from a socially responsible company in the last six months, 47% say they are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact. Four out of ten (40%) Slovakian consumers check the packaging to ensure it is committed to positive social and environmental impact.

What is the situation in the Western? Do we lag behind other countries?

This results are in line with an own survey Tchibo conducted in 2014 to measure the sustainability perception of our brand in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland and Czech Republic. The results have clearly shown, that throughout all markets sustainability is a relevant factor for the purchase act, although associations with sustainability differ from country to country. While the customers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland connect sustainability with ecology, the focus in Poland and Czech Republic rather lies with economic development and safeguarding the future.

From our experience the level of awareness and interest in the topic of sustainability – both from consumer as well as business side – increases from East to West, and from South to North.  

What do you think makes CEE citizens more sceptical towards the topic – maybe also compared to German customers?

Consumers – not only in CEE – are often confused by the many different labels that can be found on sustainable products. Sustainability is a complex topic and the label criteria might not always be transparent. This is the reason, why Tchibo puts a lot of effort into consumer-oriented communication to build consumer awareness for responsible consumption. Customers’ purchasing decisions influence the pace at which we implement sustainability-related measures on our way towards a 100% sustainable business. To help them make an informed choice when buying products, we clearly label sustainable product ranges, present information in a consumer-oriented way, and ensure easy access to it. Our Tchibo shop staff receives training on advising customers in matters of sustainability, and we communicate wherever the customer looks for information: on the product, on our website, in magazines or on social media platforms.

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We create strong and meaningful linkages between the corporate, civic and public sectors in our three strategic topics – social innovation, philanthropy and responsible entrepreneurship. We build expertise our expertise in these issues, bring trends, promote long-term impact, and inspire.

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