Questions to Nanda Bergstein
Born in Munich, Nanda Bergstein, 38, studied international relations in Dresden, as well as "Gender, Development and Globalisation" in London. She started her career at the CSR consultancy Systain. In 2007, she joined the Corporate Responsibility Department at Tchibo, and three years later moved to the Non Food business unit, where she established a team for Non Food Sustainability Management. In conjunction with GIZ (The German Society for International Cooperation), she developed the WE Supplier Qualification Programme WE (Worldwide Enhancement of Social Quality), a dialogue programme that aims to improve the living conditions of workers on the factory floor. She was also instrumental in the negotiations of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, as well as the global initiative ACT on Living Wages. Since 2018, Nanda Bergstein is heading the Corporate Responsibility Department.
Nanda, what guides you in your new role as Director of Corporate Responsibility?
People. As all our efforts are about people – whether in relation to human rights or environmental protection, I try to meet and engage with the people who work for us and with us as much as I can. I want to know what we can do to ensure dignity and empowerment in their lives. Where is room for change and breakthroughs?
Trips to the origin of our supply chains inspire me tremendously, especially when I see how proud the coffee farmers or factory workers are about what they have harvested and created. At the same time, I also get confronted with the challenges, human rights violations and environmental degradation which stem from the current state of globalisation and globalised supply chains. I am aware that we as a company, and I in my role, have the responsibility to initiate change and achieve improvements. Let’s take the tragedy at Rana Plaza as an example. Even though Tchibo had not sourced from that factory, the tragedy made it painfully clear to me that we had to do more to secure workers’ safety. This is why we were part of the frontrunners in creating the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord, even before Rana Plaza happened.
An important principle in my work is collaboration; I believe this is key for long-lasting change. Working collaboratively applies to relationships with our partners and suppliers, as within the Tchibo team and our stakeholders.
In essence it is about living the values of a family business, based on strong ethics, commitment, fairness and honesty.
What are the most pressing issues from your point of view? What will need to change?
The need for change has never been more urgent: the negative effects of environmental pollution and climate change are escalating and affecting the entire planet. We have not even reached the 1.5 or 2 degrees cap and are already feeling dramatic consequences. 195 nations agreed that climate change would be the biggest challenge of the century, and they therefore signed the Paris Agreement. But paper is not worth anything unless we take action. At Tchibo, we have been implementing measures since 2008 for transport-related CO2 reduction, and we will continue to take further steps.
The same applies to human rights. People should not have to live and work under inhumane conditions. 88 years ago, the International Labour Organization (ILO) passed the first convention against forced labour, but even today, 20 million people are working under conditions of forced labour. Over ten years ago, we had to learn that traditional methods such as auditing the manufacturers of our consumer products did not really improve people's lives, and yet auditing remains one of the most pervasive tools in the industry. It took us courage, but nevertheless we decided to create a dialogue-based supplier training programme, together with GIZ (The German Society for International Cooperation) in 2007. With the help of highly talented and professional local facilitators we are jointly working on creating space for empowerment and the implementation of human rights in factories.
We have seen astounding results with the programme. To enable more people and factories to profit from WE, we would be happy to share our knowledge and innovations with others. That is why we are opening WE to other companies as well.
Tchibo is pursuing the goal of a 100% sustainable business. How and when do you expect to reach this goal?
In 2006, we set out to make processes and products sustainable. While we are proud of our progress, we are painfully aware that achieving 100% is almost a mission impossible. Sustainability work is a continuous challenge of the status quo. New questions arise regularly which need new answers. I cannot imagine a state in which we would have completed our work.
Therefore, 100% does not imply a perfect state. Rather it stands for the conviction and commitment to continuously challenge ourselves to make improvements, and to consistently search for innovations and breakthroughs. Technology might help disrupt the system. Digitalisation, co-sharing and science all offer us new opportunities for cooperation and development.
How does being a mainstream company and sustainability work together? Isn’t this a paradox that can never be resolved?
At first glance maybe. But especially companies catering to the mainstream have the opportunity to reach a vast number of people to encourage a more sustainable way of life. Size also creates drive towards more sustainable raw materials. Due to high purchase volumes, for example in organic cotton, we promote sustainable cultivation. We’re currently the third largest seller of organic cotton products worldwide. For us, sustainable consumption also means increasingly offering products made of recycled materials, as this saves resources and energy and thus protects the environment. An example is our yoga collection made from recycled polyester. And, since the beginning of the year, we’ve become the first major retailer to offer sustainably produced baby and children's clothing for rent. The initial results are promising!
What do Tchibo customers think of your sustainable ideas and proposals?
The ecologic and social revolution is not only a matter of safeguarding the future and our survival, but is also a real concern for many customers. They ask us questions. They want to know how the products they buy are made. They want to make sure that humans, animals and nature were not harmed in the process.
This mindset has visibly grown in recent years due to the influence of the media and social networks, and rightly so. It’s about taking responsibility for future generations. My colleagues tell me that it’s not them who educate their children about sustainability, but rather the other way around: the children are educating us! They ask questions and want answers. That’s why I am particularly pleased about the success of our Tchibo Share hire service, because it shows that we are on the right path.