Handling of chemicals

Umgang mit Chemikalien

In the various stages of the textile value chain, chemicals play an important role in order to meet colorfulness, elasticity and quality. The Otto Group is committed to the safe and environmentally friendly handling of chemicals, especially in the factories for wet processes (dyeing, washing, printing).

We have the greatest leverage for improvements in the handling of chemicals if we raise awareness in the deeper supply chain through our business partners. With our own program, we support the development of know-how and empower people to help themselves and through on-site training. Through this approach, the Otto Group has already been able to achieve significant improvements in some operations - particularly in Asia.


Transparency plays a decisive role in the Otto Group's chemicals management. As a retail company, we do not have own factories. And even our business partners are often not the owners of those factories in which the greatest use of chemicals occurs. Therefore, we rely on our direct business partners to tell us which factories they work with in the deeper supply chain. Suppliers for wet processes (dyeing, washing, printing) are particularly relevant here, as this is where the greatest levers for improvement lie from a chemical management perspective.

Guidelines and requirements

With the following guidelines and supporting documents we provide our business partners and wet process factories with orientation for improved handling of chemicals:

  • Our Manual on Chemical Management provides guidance and practical advice on how a factory can implement good chemical management and thereby meet the requirements of the Otto Group and other companies.
  • As a member of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, the Otto Group uses the Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) of the ZDHC Foundation (a foundation in which large companies have joined forces to improve chemical management worldwide) as an industry standard. The MRSL defines threshold values for selected chemicals in textile production and provides guidance on which ones to avoid and replace in production.
  • The Otto Group's own internal guidelines define chemicals that are either completely banned in the end product or banned above a certain threshold value.
  • On the subject of PFCs, we have produced a brochure for our business partners that provides information on the potential hazards, identifies suitable alternatives and makes recommendations for substitution. PFCs are perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals that are used in many consumer products due to their special water-, grease- and dirt-repellent properties.

The documents are made available to our business partners in the relevant local language. At the same time, they are requested to forward them to their factories.

Auditing and monitoring

We have developed the EMPact program to specifically improve our partners' chemical management. This offers business partners and factories a wide range of support services free of charge. We visit, audit and train the factories in our markets on site. If we discover any shortcomings and non-compliances, we support an improvement process in the factory. Our basic philosophy is to work together in partnership to achieve long-term improvements. Nevertheless, our business partners may face targeted sanctions, up to and including termination of the collaboration, if a factory refuses to make the predefined improvements in chemical management.


Complex tasks along global supply chains can be tackled most effectively through partnerships. Based on this conviction, the Otto Group is involved, among other things, in the amfori BSCI, the International Accord and, through the Aid by Trade Foundation, with Cotton made in Africa for sustainable cotton cultivation. In addition, since June 2015 the Otto Group has been a member of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, which was initiated by the German federal government. Here, too, we can increase our reach in the supply chain by combining various forces and jointly improve processes in a targeted manner. As representatives from business, politics and civil society work together, the cross-sector approach in the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles has a particularly high level of effectiveness.

Increasing the range

Most of our products are manufactured in factories with which we have no direct contractual relationship and where other brand companies and retailers also have their products manufactured. Particularly in upstream production stages, such as wet processes, the influence of a single company is often not sufficient to initiate changes in a targeted manner. In terms of effective chemical management, this means that we achieve substantial changes when we work together with other companies in a coordinated manner. Uniform standards, a common language and a concerted appearance in the production countries enable us to effectively initiate improvements in the handling of chemicals.

One focus of the Textile Partnership, for example, is to reduce negative environmental impacts from textile production by means of the Partnership's Chemicals Management Initiative and to develop relevant measures for this purpose, on which members report. Accordingly, we at the Otto Group also align our ongoing measures and progress with the goals of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. As part of our membership, we publish these annually in a report.

Change of processes

Together with our partners in the Textile Partnership, we want to develop viable industry solutions that are supported by a majority of textile companies, politicians and non-governmental organizations alike. They should also be able to be applied internationally.

The Otto Group's focus is on qualifying and raising awareness among its business partners and their factories. We achieve sustainable and long-term change by supporting self-empowerment, especially through a specific training program. The task is to gradually and consistently eliminate particularly harmful chemicals from production processes. In principle, chemicals are indispensable for the industrial production of textiles and clothing. However, we want to help replace harmful chemicals with harmless alternatives. In order to reduce the environmental impact, proper storage and proper disposal must also be ensured.

The training of suppliers, the successive substitution of harmful chemicals and the development of a uniform language are topics that are being addressed in the Textile Partnership. The qualification measures developed there complement the offerings of our EMPact program. For example, we support the development of training videos on various aspects of good chemical management along the supply chain. We also collaborated on a supplier brochure that explains the Textile Partnership's requirements on chemical management in simple terms and with helpful examples. We were also able to contribute content from our own Chemical Management Manual. And we welcome the fact that the Textile Partnership has adopted the Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) of the ZDHC Foundation. This will further standardize specifications for factories in the production countries.


Based on our "impACT" management process, "EMPact" stands for the Otto Group's capacity building program. The name links the "EMP"powerment of our suppliers with the resulting "act"ions.

Dialog and empowerment

Many different chemicals are used in the manufacture of textiles, especially in the wet processes (dyeing, washing, printing). Some of them can pose a risk to people and the environment if they are not handled, stored or disposed of properly. Especially in emerging and developing countries, factories often lack awareness or the necessary knowledge and experience. To counteract this in a targeted manner, the Otto Group has launched the EMPact program.

The program has two focal points. The first is to raise awareness of the effects of inadequate chemical management - both among factory management and employees. Then, the missing know-how for improvement measures is built up. In doing so, we always take into account specific local conditions. This is because production sites sometimes face very different challenges in terms of chemical management. It is precisely by trying to conduct these dialogs at eye level that we achieve sustainable improvements through EMPact.

To support our business partners, we provide them with an information package to pass on to wet process factories. It consists of, among other things, the Chemical Management Manual, the Manufacturing Restricted Substance List (MRSL) and an overview of other forms of support we offer.


We offer our business partners and their factories training programs to provide them with concrete on-site support in implementing new measures and processes. Together with our project partners Sequa gGmbH and Systain Consulting GmbH, the Otto Group developed a pilot program back in March 2016 that focuses in particular on wet process factories. The 14-month training program was developed in close collaboration with more than 40 of our most important suppliers and their factories for wet processes from China, Bangladesh and Turkey, as well as with experts from science and civil society. Through a combination of several days of training on relevant topics (including basic chemical knowledge, safe storage, safe handling, waste management and wastewater treatment) and on-site expert visits, the participating factories were able to substantially improve their chemical management. We share some of the approaches as good practices with other factories.

We have consistently developed the pilot project of our EMPact program further, incorporating feedback from our project partners. In addition to training and on-site support, we also offer free wastewater tests for wet processes. This enables us to identify potential sources of hazardous chemical input and check compliance with our requirements. We also continue to train our key business partners to further raise awareness of good chemical management.


Based on our EMPact program, improvements have already been achieved in wet process factories in China, Bangladesh and Turkey. Through several days of on-site training and expert visits, we have achieved initial successes in the areas of chemical management, chemical storage, chemical handling, waste management and chemical disposal.