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.
Ahlers is a family-run company with a long tradition at the Group headquarters in Herford. 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, 73 percent of our Group’s 2,020 employees were women and 27 percent were men. In Germany, 378 of 608 employees are women (62 percent; previous year: 60 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 147 people (previous year: 149). 53 people or 36 percent of them are women (previous year: 56; 38 percent). In Germany, the management team comprises 61 people (previous year: 60), of whom 12 are women (20 percent; previous year: 25 percent).
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 23 (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
- IT clerk
- retail merchant
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. In 2017, the company again supported 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), AMD (Akademie Mode & Design) as well as the 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-eight years ago, the clothing manufacturer can rely on the loyalty of its staff. This reporting period saw Ahlers honour thirty-five 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.
Declaration of Basic Values
Ahlers’ Declaration of Basic Values, as last amended in 2015, is publicly available on the Intranet and the Internet. This Code of Conduct 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. Potential 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.
Central Compliance Department
More than two years ago, we established a central department named “Corporate Compliance Production and Procurement”. The employees in this independent department monitor compliance with social and product standards and implement Ahlers’ own supplier management policies within the Group. They are in charge of hazardous substances management and advise the individual product groups. In 2017, the product managers, buyers and dispatchers were trained, among other things, on the Ahlers policies, on supplier management and on product safety. The department’s staff ensure that Group-wide requirements are defined, coordinated and implemented consistently. Since early 2016, we have kept a detailed documentation of all our suppliers and production plants comprising certifications and social compliance documents in accordance with a defined acceptance procedure. The supplier portfolio is continuously checked for up-to-dateness and optimised. Ahlers already has a policy of pooling the purchasing activities for similar materials across its brands and aims to successively achieve a concentration of suppliers. This systematic, database-assisted supplier management policy approach makes it easier to ensure compliance with the Group’s standards and increases the quality and transparency of the supervision.
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. Based on a specifically developed risk matrix, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Amended General Terms and Conditions of Purchase
In the past fiscal year, Ahlers amended its General Terms and Conditions of Purchase and sent them to all active suppliers. The new Terms and Conditions came into force on September 1, 2017 for all orders for the delivery of products and services. In the context of the amendment, a separate paragraph on “Special commitments by the supplier” was added. All suppliers commit to complying with the Ahlers policies (Ahlers Code of Conduct, Restricted Substances List, CSR confirmation) as well as the applicable legal provisions of the European Union, in particular the REACH Regulation and the legal provisions of the Federal Republic of Germany. Compliance with these commitments is of great importance for the contractual relationship. Each violation constitutes a material breach of contract and may put the contractual partner under an obligation to pay damages.
Pilot project with ZDHC-MRSL
In the context of a pilot project in cooperation with the Verband der Nordwestdeutschen Textil- und Bekleidungsindustrie e.V., Ahlers has communicated the Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) of the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Initiative (ZDHC) to its largest suppliers of unfinished goods who use wet processes. The MRSL restricts the use of hazardous chemicals in the textile value chain. This first step covers over 40 percent of Ahlers’ purchasing volume of unfinished goods. The aim is to encourage all our suppliers to implement the ZDHC-MRSL standards. The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Initiative (ZDHC) is to reduce the impact of hazardous chemicals on people and the environment. The Initiative supports the widespread use of sustainable chemicals and the implementation of best practice guidelines in chemicals management to protect consumers, workers and nature.
The Ahlers Group attaches great importance to using scarce resources sparingly and reducing the burden on the environment. Unfinished goods manufacture, garment manufacture 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 completely stopped using real fur in the 2017 autumn/winter 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.
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. When signing up logistic partners, Ahlers makes sure that the latter can ensure carbon-neutral transports. Deliveries from the Far East are made by ship or rail wherever possible to avoid an adverse impact on our carbon footprint that would arise from air transport. Starting spring 2018, we will significantly reduce the transports of unfinished goods through the consolidation of the unfinished goods warehouse in Poland, which will additionally help to avoid emissions. Moreover, our carton packagings are used multiple times before they are eventually recycled.
The ahlers collection, which also comprises the works of art owned by Ahlers AG, today consists of 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. Requests for loans from renowned national and international museums testify to the quality of the collection. In 2017, works from the ahlers collection were exhibited, for instance, at the Bucerius Kunstforum in Hamburg, the New Gallery in New York, the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Venice Biennale and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Ahlers also provides financial assistance to support exhibitions and scientific book projects such as artist monographs.
For many years Ahlers AG has cooperated with the Ahlers Pro Arte foundation by loaning important works of art for the latter’s exhibitions, which attract nation-wide media coverage. Among the highlights of the foundation’s activities in 2017 were two lectures as well as the exhibition “Gesicht und Maske: Rollenspiele in der Porträtkunst” (September to December).
Major parts of the ahlers collection are loaned permanently to renowned museums with which the company has cooperated for many years. The German expressionist works from the collection are 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 and Dieter Roth – is on display at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover.
In 2018, the ahlers collection will again participate in numerous international exhibitions. Two major projects on post-war art deserve special mention: Birth of a Nation: Italian Art from the Postwar Reconstruction to 1968 at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (March to July) and, most importantly, Flashes of the Future: The Art of the "68ers" or The Power of the Powerless at the Ludwig Forum in Aachen (April to August), under the patronage of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, where about a dozen works from the ahlers collection will be on display.
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.
More information on the exhibitions in the fiscal year 2015/16 can be found on page XY et seq.
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.