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Sustainability

Corporate responsibility

Being a leading European public stock company producing men‘s fashion, Ahlers attaches great importance to sustainable value creation. In a global industry, we are well aware of our responsibility towards our stakeholders and align our corporate activity accordingly. Solid, sustainable and profitable growth is the objective for the medium-term development of our company. We consider the effects of our business activity on society and the environment and observe economic, social and environmental aspects in our activities. Our sustainability strategy comprises four fields of action – employees, products, environment and society. All four fields are monitored and optimised on an ongoing basis.

Employees

Ahlers is a family-run company with a long tradition at the Group headquarters in Herford. Besides the Herford headquarters, Ahlers has a branch in Munich (Baldessarini). The company operates its own production facilities in Poland and Sri Lanka. The distribution and logistic activities for part of Eastern Europe are controlled out of Opole (Poland). The Group also has employees in retail stores and sales offices across Europe.
Many employees have been with the company for many years, and staff turnover in the company is low. As the company entered new market segments, e.g. e-commerce, and expanded its Retail activities, many new employees have joined the company in recent years.

Women within the Group
Women play an important role at all hierarchical levels of Ahlers AG. As of the reporting date, 71 percent of our Group’s 2,060 employees were women and 29 percent were men. In Germany, 364 of 603 employees are women (60 percent; previous year: 61 percent).
Since 2005, the company has been headed by CEO Dr. Stella A. Ahlers. Since February 2017, the Management Board has been composed of three members, one third of whom are women and two thirds are men. There is equal representation on the Supervisory Board, three of whose members are women: Prof. Dr. Julia von Ah as Deputy Chairwoman and Chairwoman of the Audit Committee as well as employee representatives Heidrun Baumgart and Roswitha Galle. The total management team of all Group companies comprises 149 people (previous year: 152). 56 people or 38 percent of them are women (previous year: 56; 37 percent). In Germany, the management team comprises 60 people (previous year: 63), of whom 15 are women (25 percent; previous year: 24 percent).
 
Management philosophy
In a dynamic and increasingly digital world, companies must develop the skill to adapt to constant changes. This skill is first developed in the minds of a company’s people. Our executives must spearhead this movement. Ahlers fosters a culture of encouragement and experimenting. This comprises active cooperation, a strong feeling of solidarity throughout the company, a constructive approach to errors as well as the possibility to push ahead and implement own ideas within a team.
 
Recruiting human resources
Ahlers continuously advances both its brands and its corporate strategy and structures. In the past years, for instance, the company expanded its e-commerce and retail departments. In these growth segments as well as in other areas of the company, e.g. distribution and marketing, Ahlers is constantly on the lookout for ambitious and talented people who would like to contribute their passion and their commitment to a leading fashion company. Another focus is on the search for apprentices and university graduates, primarily in the fields of distribution, marketing, retail, product management and accounting/controlling. A trainee programme is available for graduates starting their career at Ahlers.

Training and advancing young people
Training young people has a long tradition at Ahlers, with the company attaching special importance to high-quality induction and support. Ahlers relies on qualified young talents who stay with the company for a long time and actively contribute to the success of the Group. Trainees and apprentices are quickly involved in the departmental processes and, after a comprehensive induction programme, are given the chance to assume responsibility at an early stage of their career. At present, the company employs 21 (previous year: 21) apprentices. They are guided through our company based on carefully developed plans and are supported closely. As part of their vocational training, the commercial trainees spend time abroad to get to know our own international production facilities and suppliers. Vocational training in the following professions is available at our Herford branch:

  • industrial clerk
  • EU industrial clerk
  • IT clerk
  • retail merchant

Since the introduction of the advanced EU industrial clerk training scheme, we have offered this demanding traineeship, which includes foreign languages and thus caters to the needs of Ahlers’ increasingly international business activities. We regularly offer dual studies, e.g. business administration and business informatics, for high school graduates. Traditionally Ahlers retains a large proportion of its apprentices and graduates in continuing employment.

Qualification and human resources development
Competent and motivated people are the most important asset of any company. Ahlers AG supports its employees by showing them career development opportunities and offering them different further training and qualification measures. Up-and-coming talents regularly have the possibility to enrol in dual study courses to enhance their qualifications as future managers. Two employees successfully completed their dual studies in mid-2016. As of 2017, the company will again support several employees enrolled in business management and IT study courses.

Cooperation with universities
Cooperation with universities is an important success factor, which helps to attract and win young talents for the Group at an early stage. A good example is our cooperation with Bielefeld University in the context of the BU2BU programme (“Best Undergraduates to Bielefeld University”) with the aim of promoting academic excellence. Ahlers gives a number of interns the opportunity to gain an insight into everyday working life. Moreover, we recruit talented graduates to enrol in a dual study programme in International Business Administration. In this context, Ahlers cooperates with institutions such as LDT Nagold (Academy for Fashion Management) as well as Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences.

Thanks to the staff
For over eighty years, Ahlers has had a material influence on the region surrounding the headquarters in Herford/Elverdissen as well as on the people who work for the company and show their commitment, their passion and their loyalty. Ever since its foundation ninety-seven years ago, the clothing manufacturer can rely on the loyalty of its staff. This reporting period saw Ahlers honour thirty-eight employees who have successfully worked for the company for ten, twenty-five or even forty years. The Management Board and the Managing Directors would like to thank all employees for the great commitment shown in the past fiscal year.

Product

Social standards in the procurement process
Ahlers AG and its brands are fully aware of their social responsibility and attach the greatest importance to ethical behaviour. Our companies therefore comply with international social accountability standards, which are defined in a Code of Conduct. The principles and standards laid down in this Code of Conduct are based on the agreements and standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
The products of Ahlers AG are primarily manufactured in Eastern Europe and Asia. For several decades, the company has operated two production facilities in Poland and Sri Lanka. A major portion of the company’s products in the trousers segment is produced in its own production plants. This not only ensures maximum transparency for a major part of its output but also allows the company to constantly enhance its expertise and its high quality standards. The company’s own plants meet all requirements of the social compliance standards. Having passed a first audit in 2014, our Sri Lankan production facility again underwent a complex and detailed audit process conducted by the WRAP (= Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) organisation in December 2016 and was awarded again the Gold Certificate. The WRAP audit revolves around a set of principles including legal and social compliance, environmental compatibility as well as health and safety. The standards defined by these principles have since been complied with.
Ahlers also cooperates with independent suppliers, all of whom are selected carefully and based on strict criteria and whom are continuously monitored. The company assesses the political situation in the country and also considers international transport links and available resources at the production site. When choosing suppliers, the company makes sure that they are certified to BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative) or SA 8000 (international standard aiming to improve workplace practices) and present good references. The company focuses on long-term relationships with all its suppliers. As the basis for cooperation, every supplier must undertake to comply with the company’s Code of Conduct as well as with international social standards. Compliance with the Code of Conduct is checked and documented by the Ahlers procurement teams at least twice a year based on a defined list of guidelines. Any changes that may be required are discussed and implemented jointly with the factory management teams.

Declaration of basic values
Ahlers revised its declaration of basic values in the year 2015. This updated Code of Conduct was published on the intranet and the Internet in October 2015. It applies to all employees of the Ahlers Group companies and governs their behaviour in the execution and running of day-to-day business in Germany and abroad. Ahlers AG stipulates legal business practices which observe fair competition, commercial trademark rights of third parties as well as cartel and competition regulations. All forms of corruption and bribery are prohibited. Contracts must be fulfilled and general ethical values and principles must be respected.
The companies of Ahlers AG comply with the laws and legislation of all countries in which they operate. They also instruct their contractual partners accordingly. They respect and accept the different legal, social and cultural backgrounds of the countries along the value chain and acknowledge their structures, habits and traditions. Where these are inconsistent with the principles laid down here, joint solutions shall be developed in a dialogue with the contractual partners. All employees are encouraged to immediately report violations of the Code of Conduct. For this purpose, an anonymised reporting form has been drawn up which is electronically sent to a lawyer. Violations are addressed and eliminated in cooperation with our Compliance Officer. In addition, measures are taken to avoid future violations. The Ahlers Compliance Officer informs the Supervisory Board of his/her activities and the company’s adherence to its Compliance Guidelines in an annual report.
 
Non-hazardous clothing
In keeping with the high quality standards and expectations of the company and its customers, all products of Ahlers AG are manufactured on the principle that they are ethically correct and non-hazardous. They meet statutory limits and, wherever possible, remain below them. All suppliers are obliged to refrain from using hazardous materials in the production of materials in accordance with applicable legislation. To ensure that this is done, Ahlers has defined clear standards for its business partners and obliged them to check for themselves that these are met. In addition, the company continuously commissions external, independent testing laboratories to check the composition of the products and verify that they are free from hazardous substances. Ahlers jeans are treated exclusively with tested and non-hazardous agents and manufactured using permissible production techniques. Ahlers attaches great importance to avoiding health hazards in the production process. Sand-blasting, for instance, is not used in the production of jeans. The company has committed itself to increasingly consider sustainability aspects in its procurement activities and to constantly refine the systematic assessment of suppliers.
Due to the care taken along the Ahlers procurement chain, irregularities in production are largely impossible. Our employees regularly visit the local production facilities, so that ongoing control and inspection of the product processes is ensured. In some cases, facilities are visited without prior announcement, while other facilities are supported throughout the year. Should irregularities arise nevertheless, they are contained and remedied immediately with the help of defined process plans.
 
Quality management
Ahlers attaches special importance to excellent product quality. Selected materials must be processed carefully and in accordance with their high quality. This is why all production processes – from planning to production to delivery – are subjected to detailed quality controls in the context of Ahlers’ quality management system.

Environment

Environmental protection
The Ahlers Group attaches great importance to using scarce resources sparingly and reducing the burden on the environment. Production and logistics are the fields in which we can do the most to protect the environment. The company is fully committed to using energy sparingly, to ensuring the best possible utilisation of raw materials in the production process and to avoiding waste and the pollution of air and water. Ahlers uses environmentally compatible production techniques and ensures that natural resources, energy and water are used efficiently. Our own and our subcontractors’ jeans laundries are equipped with sewage purification plants for the separation of dyes. This minimises the level of water pollution caused by the washes. A high degree of automation ensures the energy efficiency of the production processes. The premium quality of the Ahlers products makes them particularly long lasting. The extended lifecycle of the fashion products helps protect resources and the environment. Ahlers will fully stop using real fur as of the autumn/winter 2017 season.
Ahlers expects its business partners to also comply with applicable environmental protection regulations and to use natural resources responsibly and requires them to act in an environmentally compatible manner along the production chain.
 
Central compliance department

In mid-2015 we established a central department named “Corporate Compliance Production and Procurement”. The employees in this independent department monitor compliance with social and product standards. They are in charge of hazardous substances management and advise the individual product groups. In 2016, courses on hazardous substance management and statutory labelling duties were organised in cooperation with German Fashion Modeverband. The department’s staff ensure that Group-wide requirements are coordinated and implemented consistently. Since the beginning of 2016, all our suppliers and manufacturing partners have been registered in a database including all certifications and social compliance documents. This kind of systematic supplier management has additionally increased the quality and the transparency of the monitoring process.
Ahlers has its own Restricted Substance List (RSL), which the department updates regularly in cooperation with the “Verband der Nordwestdeutschen Textil- und Bekleidungsindustrie e.V.”. The standards for the use of chemicals and compliance with legal requirements regarding hazardous substances are coordinated centrally. The operating unit constantly commissions external laboratories to take random samples of the raw materials and finished products of all brands; in some cases, the goods of individual product groups are tested on a permanent basis. We exclusively cooperate with accredited laboratories in Germany and abroad. In the event of positive tests, precautionary measures have been taken to ensure that product batches can be narrowed down and localised. In doing so, the company regularly prepares for potential production-related risks and outlines possible action scenarios.

Logistics
As far as logistics are concerned, the centralisation of warehouses and the efficient use of cargo space help to avoid unnecessary transports. Ahlers is constantly trying to concentrate its base of suppliers and manufacturing partners with a view to reducing carbon emissions through reduced transports. Wherever possible, goods sourced from the Far East are transported by ship in order to avoid an adverse impact on our carbon footprint that would arise from air transport.

Society
 
ahlers collection
The ahlers collection, which also comprises the works of Ahlers AG, today comprises some 3,000 works of art from 500 artists. The main focus is on expressionism and art of the second half of the 20th century.
 
Art and cultural sponsorship as part of the corporate philosophy
The commitment to art and artists has a long tradition at Ahlers. For many decades, parts of the collection have been made available for exhibitions to allow the public to engage with the pieces of art. The quality is confirmed by requests for loans from renowned national and international museums. In 2016, works from the ahlers collection were exhibited at BOZAR (Centre for Fine Arts) in Brussels, ZKM in Karlsruhe, Frankfurt’s Städel Museum, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Tate Liverpool and Fondation Beyeler in Basle. Ahlers also provides financial assistance to support exhibitions and scientific book projects such as artist monographs. In 2012, for instance, Ahlers supported an artist project at documenta 12 in Kassel, and in 2015 the company helped organise the ZERO exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.
For many years Ahlers AG has cooperated with the Ahlers Pro Arte foundation by sponsoring art exhibitions, which are covered by nation-wide media. Highlights in 2016 included the exhibitions Kontur, Farbe, Licht: Das Wesentliche zeigen - Gabriele Münter 1877-1962 (September 2015 to January 2016) and, most importantly, ZERO und Nouveau Réalisme: Die Befragung der Wirklichkeit in den 1950er- und 60er- Jahren, a joint project by the Ahlers Pro Arte foundation and the ZERO foundation from Düsseldorf, with approximately half the exhibits made available by the ahlers collection.
In autumn 2016, the Ahlers Pro Arte foundation moved from Hannover to Herford-Elverdissen, in the immediate vicinity of Ahlers AG. Going forward, the foundation will contribute to arts and culture in the region through small exhibitions, lectures and presentations and other events. At the same time, major parts of the ahlers collection were loaned permanently to renowned museums with which the company has cooperated for many years. The German expressionist works from the collection is now on exhibition at the Franz Marc Museum in Kochel, while the extensive collection of works from the 2nd half of the 20th century – with a focus on Nouveau Réalisme und Dieter Roth – is on display at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover.  
The ahlers collection will participate in numerous international exhibitions in 2017 as well. Among the most important ones are retrospectives on Alexej von Jawlensky (Neue Galerie, New York), Paula Modersohn-Becker (Bucerius Kunstforum, Hamburg), Georg Baselitz (Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, and Guggenheim Bilbao) and Yves Klein (HEART-Museum, Herning, Denmark). A large group of works from the ahlers collection will be exhibited at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow in the context of the large European travelling exhibition Art in Europe 1945–1968. Facing the Future, which previously stopped in Brussels and Karlsruhe in 2016.
Just like fashion, the visual arts reflect the culture and living environment of their time. Both crystallise changes in the zeitgeist, the political and social environment and technical potential. Based on the insight that art and fashion are equally rooted in creativity while at the same time stimulating it, the company’s art collection is an important component of its corporate and brand communications and its effect manifests itself not only externally but also inside the organisation. Ahlers integrates art in the workplace too by placing selected works of art in the business premises.

Further social engagement
Ahlers makes financial and in-kind donations to a variety of social projects, associations and cultural institutions. While we continue to sponsor a number of local initiatives linked to our traditional base in Herford, we also support projects elsewhere. Going forward, Ahlers will uphold its level of social engagement and develop it further.