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Responding to Stakeholder Concerns on Human Rights

We aim to enhance the lives and support the local communities of the people who work for and with us. We’re committed to source responsibly and we work closely with our suppliers make sure they respect human rights, promote decent working conditions and improve sustainability across our supply base. 

This includes being transparent when we are challenged and responding to these challenges in the right way. We always do everything we can to be open and transparent – both in the information we make public and the way we share it. This includes taking every opportunity to learn when things don’t go to plan and to make the necessary improvements in order to continue to be a responsible business. 

As part of our commitment to transparency we publish details of where we have been challenged by NGOs and campaigners on human rights in our supply chain and the details of our response and resolution. 

The following summarises the third party challenges we’ve received since 2014:

2016

BBC Panorama – allegations of Syrian refugees working in Turkish factories
In October 2016, a BBC Panorama programme looked at the issue of Syrian refugees working illegally in the Turkish garment industry in factories supplying M&S, Next, ASOS, Mango and Inditex. 

We are acutely aware of the complexity surrounding Syrian refugees in Turkey and we have been engaged for over 18 months regarding the legal employment of Syrian refugees. 

We have a local team on the ground in Turkey who visit all of our suppliers on a regular basis and interview workers. In the last year they have run supplier workshops on the Syrian refugee crisis highlighting labour law and how to legally employ Syrian workers.

The key issue is that until January 2016 Syrian refugees had no ability to work in Turkey, as they were not allowed to apply for work permits. The Turkish Government changed the law in January but only to allow Syrians to work on a permanent basis with the factory having to apply for the work permit on their behalf. Unfortunately this process can take many months and the requirements for a permanent work permit excludes many Syrians from receiving them. This leads to Syrians trying to obtain work informally and casually, being paid cash.
We had previously found no evidence of Syrian workers employed in factories that supply us, so we were very disappointed by the BBC’s findings, which are extremely serious and are unacceptable to M&S. 

Within 24 hours of being supplied with the factory name, we conducted our own unannounced audit, which found one Syrian adult casual daily labourer paid in cash, without wage slips, and employed through an agent working at the factory. The worker was above the legal minimum working age and was being paid a wage equal to comparably skilled permanent workers, he did not have the required work permit.
We have worked closely with the factory to put in place an action plan who have been fully cooperative throughout the process, this included offering the Syrian refugee permanent legal employment. This was declined and they have subsequently left the factory.

We will continue to monitor the factory closely to ensure that they adhere to our Global Sourcing Principles and will carry out future visits and audits in all factories on an unannounced basis.

It has always been our policy not to “Cut & Run” following an incident such as this, but to work with the factory to ensure our standards are upheld and these issues do not happen again in the future. As the owners of the factory cooperated fully and were unaware that the Syrian worker had been employed on a daily basis by the factory, we will not exit this factory merely as a result of the Panorama programme and we will continue to monitor it closely to ensure it amends its practices so it does not occur again. 

We are already members of the in-country Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Turkey Working Group, working collaboratively with other Brands on a best practice and due diligence approaches to protecting Syrian refugees seeking work in the garment industry but given the scale of the plight of Syrian refugees, and the sheer scale of the issue of informal workers in all industries, not limited to the garment industry, we have recommended a convening of all brands sourcing from Turkey, to establish a multi-industry wide collective action plan and next steps. 

With teams from other brands, ETI representatives, the Turkish Government and Employer Associations, we believe we have a great opportunity to help improve the situation for employment of the Syrian Refugees.

2015

Alleged mistreatment of migrant workers on a fruit farm in Kent
In October 2015, a media investigation brought to light issues at a fruit packhouse in Kent, which supplies a number of leading food retailers, including M&S. The issues were centred on the standard of accommodation provided, and worker-management communication. Whilst other brands ceased or suspended supply we worked closely with the supplier to understand the root causes of the issue, funding additional consultancy support to improve the site’s human resources, labour provider and accommodation management systems. We also supported the supplier to help roll-out more effective workplace communication. 

The site continues to make progress in addressing these issues and we receive regular updates. In addition, partly as a result of this case, in March 2016 we ran an ethical trade training session for all our UK produce suppliers, which included detailed guidance materials on ensuring adequate workplace communications, and on minimum accommodation standards. In order to demonstrate full commercial support for the agenda, this session was delivered by our buying teams, as well as ethical specialists.

2014

GCL (Grosby) Footwear factory, China
We are sometimes asked about allegations relating to one of our former factories, GCL (Grosby) Footwear factory, in China. 

In 2013, the factory was required by the Hong Kong government to change its name and legal representative due to being restructured as a wholly Hong Kong-owned enterprise. This was done to enable the factory to manufacture for the local market as well as for export as per local government guidelines.

In May 2014, China Labor Watch (CLW) alleged that Grosby used this transition as an excuse not to distribute payments to workers, including monthly wages, subsidies and social insurance. Workers also believed that this meant that they were no longer entitled to long service benefits such as redundancy compensation. As a result of a significant breakdown in communication, trust and confidence between the factory management and workers the factory workers went on strike. It was also alleged that the factory had dismissed a number of workers during the strike including the vice-chair of the trade union. 

Whilst other global brands sourcing from GCL did not engage in the resolution process, we worked closely with the factory despite being its smallest customer. 

As part of the resolution we sent in a specialist NGO to conduct worker interviews and to carry out a full investigation in order to verify all the information was correct and to propose recommendations.

The GCL management confirmed they had changed the factory’s name and business licence in July 2013. The management however failed to adequately communicate (either in 2013 or 2014) to the workers, that all benefits, continuity of service and redundancy compensation and terms of employment remained unaffected (i.e. pay rates, working hours and holiday entitlements) by the name change. 

ETI China also visited the factory within the scope of the investigation and we responded in writing to all interested unions, campaign groups and stakeholders. During the investigation and interviews, it was established that there was no trusted 'bridge' between the two sides because workers reported that they believed the union was ineffective. As a result they felt they were unable to negotiate with management. The management reported that the union was unable to help them solve any of the problems. The factory was, however, not willing to engage directly with workers, only through representatives. 

The factory took on the recommended remediation action plan and held additional meetings with the union representatives and the workers representative. There was also several face-to-face sessions with workers to provide guarantees that long service payments were unaffected and would be provided should the factory close or move location. In addition, the factory offered a bonus payment for workers to return to work after the strike, to compensate for their lost strike pay. Most workers returned to work but several workers still refused and were, under China Law, dismissed. These dismissed workers applied to the Arbitration Court to be reinstated but they lost the case and GCL were found to have dismissed the workers legally.

As a result of this case we developed a Workplace Communications Module which has been implemented in many of our sourcing countries, specifically China and over 113,000 workers and managers have attended the training.

The above have all been received from the media, trade unions or labour and human rights advocacy groups. They are distinct from issues we identify through other processes which include our own due diligence or complaints that we may receive directly from employees in our business or workers in the countries where we source product (e.g. through worker hotlines). The specific details of the complaints or the parties to the complaint are not disclosed, unless both the complainant and the subject of the complaint have agreed to this being made public, or where the complaint has already been made public by advocacy groups or through other channels such as the media. In some circumstances, our ability to be transparent may be restricted as a result of legally binding duties of confidentiality.

Over the next few years we will continue to publicly report on the performance of our M&S Group grievance channels / mechanisms. 

We welcome the views of stakeholders who can help us in this task. You can share your views or open dialogue with us at PlanA@marks-and-spencer.com

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