Best Practice – From the Supply Chain – with the WE project as an example

“The WE project has enabled us to initiate a profound process of change on multiple levels of our non-food supply chain, from the empowerment of the employees to improved collaboration in the supply chain. Social standards and competitiveness are not a contradiction per se, if work is done on both parameters in the dialogue of all those involved”. (Nanda Bergstein, Head of Vendor Relations & Sustainability)

Main topics: Labour Standards, Human Rights, Supply Chain, Empowerment


The Tchibo ‘WE’ project: Improving working conditions through dialogue

Background and objective

Many Tchibo articles are manufactured in the factories of emerging and developing countries. The enforcement of social standards such as fair wages, work health and safety and freedom of assembly is a major challenge. Factory inspections alone – so-called social audits – are not sufficient to improve working conditions in the long term. The implementation of social standards also fails in many cases because of the lack of employee involvement.

This is where Tchibo’s ‘Worldwide Enhancement of Social Quality’ supplier training program (‘WE’) comes in – it moves the dialogue of all the relevant stakeholders into the spotlight. The programme was created in 2007 from a development partnership with the GIZ (German Society for International Cooperation) and the BMZ (German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development) and was tested in a multi-year pilot phase.

Its aim is to support suppliers based on the dialogue approach in compliance with social standards, permanently improving the working conditions. The WE program is an important pillar in Tchibo’s overall strategy – ‘On the way to a 100% sustainable business activity’. With WE, the company wants to ensure that no Tchibo products are made at the expense of human beings and the environment.


The basis for cooperation with its suppliers is the Tchibo Social and Environmental Code of Conduct (SCoC). It defines the minimum requirements for working conditions and environmental standards and is also based on the core labour standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the ten principles of the UNGC. Social audits are carried out to check whether these requirements are being met. In addition to the setting and inspection of standards, Tchibo also opts for constant, on-site engagement with the manufacturers within the framework of the WE programme.

The WE programme has four phases: In Phase 1, suppliers are selected who are of strategic importance for Tchibo and who require assistance with the implementation of standards in the factories; a joint analysis of the key challenges is then carried out. Local coaches are subsequently selected to act as ‘bridge-builders’ and support the dialogue partners in the negotiation of solutions to improve the working conditions.

In Phase 2 the coaches are trained. They receive specific social standards expertise, enabling them to accompany and monitor the businesses during the setup of internal dialogue structures. Phase 3 comprises the qualification of the businesses carried out by means of visits and to factories and dialogue-oriented workshops. Phase 4 involves the continuous monitoring of the success of the project, a final evaluation of the effects and the exchange of information on the results with stakeholders and other companies and organisations.


W thanks to the WE approach, Tchibo has achieved many positive changes in its production facilities. Detailed documentation of all project activities and an in-depth impact analysis have shown that the workers have had more opportunities to actively participate, that the communication structures have been optimised and that social benefits, health and work safety and minimum wages have been improved. An increase in productivity and quality was also achieved in production. This proved that social standards and competitiveness do not contradict one other. So far, all 320 strategic suppliers of Tchibo in Asia and Africa have participated in qualification measures – and other businesses are constantly being integrated. 75% of Tchibo products are produced by WE factories.

How you can manage the implementation successfully

  1. Develop a code of conduct for your suppliers, one which defines the minimum requirements for working conditions.
  2. Select suppliers who want to participate in the qualification programme. Invite these suppliers to jointly analyse with you the main challenges involved in the implementation of the minimum requirements. Recruit local coaches.
  3. Train the coaches by teaching them about the requirements and the methodology.
  4. Carry out the qualification of the producing companies together with the coaches and staff of your company. A dialogue-oriented approach to this has proven itself in the ‘WE’ programme.
  5. Review the successes and improvements in the businesses within the framework of quality management and share your experiences with your stakeholders and other companies and organisations.


Learn more about the WE project at Tchibo.

The WE project was funded within the framework of the programme, implemented by the GIZ on behalf of the BMZ.

Experience reports

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