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Flowers & Plants

Horticulture is a very diverse industry with a wide array of crops and cultivation systems. Across Europe, it makes a significant contribution to the economy and produces around 44% of the world’s flowers and pot plants. During the next fifteen to twenty years global population will continue to rise placing unprecedented pressures on natural resources. Competition for land, water and energy will intensify, compounded by the impacts of climate change which will become increasingly apparent with greater volatility in weather resulting in erratic crop yields.

Fossil fuel markets are likely to become more volatile and unpredictable, potentially impacting the availability and cost of synthetic fertilisers as well as limiting the use of certain horticultural practices. As a relatively labour intensive industry, horticulture faces a number of social challenges such as instances of worker exploitation in certain parts of the sector and the lack of young people willing to engage in an industry which is seen as challenging with low rewards.

We have a proud history of working with the horticultural community to provide the breadth of range and seasonal availability that our customers expect while minimising our impacts. Through our Farming for the Future programme we are working with suppliers and growers to help them address the ethical, environment and economic challenges they face in order to maintain a long-term sustainable and secure supply.

Commitments and targets
We want to lead our sector in sustainable production and consumption, offering our customers the good value, high quality products and services they expect from M&S, while respecting planetary boundaries and the need for social equity.

Our goal is to ensure that all our produce is produced to the highest quality by growers that are operating sustainably. This commitment applies right across our business, wherever we trade.  

Approach
Flowers and plants are very important to M&S. We source in the region of 500 million stems annually. We sell a wide selection of cut flowers, indoor and outdoor plants, bulbs and seeds. We are strong supporters of the UK horticultural industry and we take the lead in selling seasonal British flowers and have one of the largest market shares in daffodils. Our daffodils are grown exclusively for us by one grower in Cornwall and Scotland. We source UK cut flowers such as sunflowers, tulips, Gladioli and Sweet Williams from growers mostly around Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. 

In addition, working through key partner suppliers in the UK we source from over 50 countries in order to give our customers the best quality produce as well as a varied choice throughout the year. Our most important sourcing regions are Holland, Colombia, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Costa Rica. We require complete visibility down to grower level. 

We have been widely recognised as a leader in supporting sustainable horticultural practices. We also actively support programmes which enhance the lives of people and communities connected with our supply chain.

Our approach to sourcing flowers and plants responsibly focuses on:

Establishing and maintaining clear minimum sourcing standards

Minimum Standards
Our Technical Terms of Trade set our minimum technical expectations for suppliers to meet. It also sets out our position on a number of areas.

We believe our product standards are industry-leading. We require all products to be made by suppliers who are technically competent within their specific area and who operate well managed locations applying Good Manufacturing Practice, a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach and due diligence to ensure safety, legality, integrity and consistent quality. Find out more about our approach to product standards.

The following minimum standards exist across our entire horticultural supply chain:

Every stage of the produce supply chain supplying into M&S needs to be audited (e.g. grower and packers). The ultimate responsibility for compliance rests with our direct supplier.

Our suppliers are also required to meet the requirements set out in our Global Sourcing Principles. Find out more about our approach to supplier management.

Restricted countries, occupied territories and conflict zones
We do not source flowers and plants from countries which have been determined to be politically unstable and pose an unacceptable travel risk (e.g. Zimbabwe).

In line with current UK Government advice we also do not source from Occupied Palestinian Territories (i.e. the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) which are considered to be illegal settlements under international law.

Labour standards
Our direct suppliers are responsible for ensuring every site supplying M&S, including growers and packers, meet our minimum labour standards which are set out in our Global Sourcing Principles

The international and seasonal nature of our horticultural supply chain means that there is a high level of ethical trade risk around the sourcing of flowers and plants. We require our suppliers to be actively assessing and managing this risk on a continual basis on our behalf. We have developed a Code of Practice which sets out our Basic Produce Ethical Requirements to support them in this process. 

All sites supplying Marks & Spencer must be registered on the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) prior to any supply starting, have linked to M&S Foods, and completed all sections of the Sedex self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ) in full. 

We expect our suppliers to engage our workers in line with legal requirements. They are required to check that all workers have a right to work in a particular country and that they are of legal working age. This applies even if workers are supplied through labour providers, agents or gangmasters. For example, in the UK suppliers are also expected to ensure that labour providers have a valid license from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority

The requirement and frequency of ethical audits is based on risk. Sites may be audited every year or up to every 4 years. Risk is driven by a range of criteria such as management systems, length of relationship, country, use of migrant or seasonal labour and previous ethical history. 

Packaging materials
Packaging and containers (e.g. glass vases) play an important role in helping to ensure quality is maintained as customers receive them (especially if home delivered). And of course they have to look attractive too. 

We’re continually looking at ways to reduce our impact. For example, in collaboration with our suppliers we’ve launched water-free packaging for bouquets of flowers bought online. The flowers are sealed in a water-free airtight bag during transit from our warehouse to the customer’s home. These packs significantly reduce water usage and damage to the flowers. 

Supporting programmes that further our understanding and build capacity within our supply chain

Farming for the Future
We introduced M&S Farming for the Future in 2010 as our programme of initiatives which champions sustainability, innovation and continual improvement. It exists so that we can deliver our commitment to source our produce from the most sustainable sources possible. 

Farming for the Future is about us helping the farmers and growers in our supply base address the challenges ahead by finding opportunities to improve efficiency, environmental performance and ethical practice. This will make their businesses more resilient and profitable, ensuring that they can continue to deliver quality and innovation for the long term whilst reducing their impact on the world around them. In turn, this delivers security of supply for M&S.

We have worked with our growers to identify the key sustainability hotspots that impact the produce sector, which are:

  • Water use
  • Energy consumption
  • Pesticide & fertiliser use
  • Soil management
  • Training/people
We are working to address these challenges through our three horticultural Indicator Farms which have been supported in making changes to their businesses to drive sustainability. This includes independent benchmarking and consultancy support to improve areas such as technical efficiency, crop management, water management and innovative ways of attracting pollinators. This knowledge is then shared with our supply base of more than 400 farmers and growers and the wider industry. For example, we hold grower meetings each year, to provide technical input on key issues and to showcase best practice. 

Sustainability Scorecard
We’re continually innovating and setting new standards for UK food retailing and all our suppliers must commit to continuous improvement. One of the tools we use to help us to do this is our Supplier Scorecard which measures the following areas: Commercial, Technical, Service, New Product Development and Innovation, Agriculture and Sustainability. This enables us to build a consistent view of our supply base to ensure we are all working together toward our mission of continually inspiring our customers.

Each direct supplier assesses each of their sites at factory or packhouse level and is scored as Provisional, Bronze, Silver or Gold. We expect all direct suppliers to be working towards achieving Silver as a minimum. 

The Sustainability element of the Supplier Scorecard is designed to reflect where our direct suppliers are on their journey towards sustainability. The Sustainability Scorecard is underpinned by a self-assessment framework comprising three elements: Environmental, Ethical and Lean Manufacturing (or waste elimination) which detail the building blocks to enable change in performance. Silver sites have clear and ambitious HR and environmental plans, systems and metrics in place and process based improvement is happening. Silver and Gold are not easily obtained which is why products produced at these sites also qualify for a Plan A product attribute. 

All our direct suppliers of flowers and plants participate in the Sustainability Scorecard. Find out more about our Sustainability Scorecard.

Cool Farm Tool
Flowers and plants make a relatively small contribution to our overall carbon footprint. However, we recognise that all parts of our business have a role to play in tackling climate change.

We’re founding members of the Cool Farm Alliance, which developed the Cool Farm Tool with a number of businesses, academics and sustainability experts.

The Cool Farm Tool is a free to use simple online tool that helps farmers and growers work out the impact of their various activities on the environment, as well as their productivity. It now covers other impacts such as biodiversity and water.

Plan A product attributes
We want every one of our products to have a Plan A attribute by 2020 – a characteristic or inherent quality or feature of a product which has a positive or lower environmental and / or social impact.

Our suppliers are required to progressively improve the sustainability credentials of our products. All should have at least one Plan A product attribute by 2020 and we have targets in place every year to increase this number. 

There are a number of circumstances where flowers and plants would be awarded a Plan A product attribute, such as:

  • Sourced from sites which score Silver or above on our Sustainability Scorecard (see above)
  • Sourced from sites which achieve the LEAF Marque or the MPS-A Standard (which recognises efforts to manage crop protection agents, fertilisers, energy, water and waste)
  • Carry the Fairtrade Mark
  • Harvesting has been overseen by the South African Flower Valley Conservation Trust
  • Supplied by companies which meet the Black Economic Empowerment (BBE) Level 4 on the South African Government’s Scorecard
Around 61% of flowers and plants sold (by volume) in 2015/16 had at least one Plan A product attribute. 

Our current list of attributes for food and household products can be found in the document How We Define Plan A Product Attributes, which you can download on this page. Find out more about our approach to product sustainability.

Supporting programmes which enhance the lives of people and communities 

Supporting small-scale producers
We have a long history of trading responsibly and always look for opportunities to support small-scale producers in less developed countries. 

Fynbos bouquets
Fynbos flowers are unique to South Africa’s Agulhas Plain in the Western Cape. In 2005, we identified them as a unique addition to our range to differentiate our flower offer from other retailers. However, the landscape of Agulhas Plain is under threat from fast expanding horticulture and other farming and also has a very high unemployment rate. Fynbos flowers grow wild, so it’s important that they are harvested in a sustainable way that creates livelihoods from the land and conserves the natural environment. 

We worked in partnership with the Shell Foundation and the Flower Valley Conservation Trust (FVCT) to develop a plan to assist FVCT to establish a separate for-profit company called Fynsa to act as a commercial supplier. FVCT then developed a sustainable harvesting code which Fynsa and other small producers are expected to abide by.

Fairtrade
In 2005, we started to introduce ranges of Fairtrade products.

Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. We have a wide range of Fairtrade products in our foodhalls, all of which help small-scale farmers and growers by paying them a Fairtrade price and a premium that protects against volatile market forces.

In terms of flowers and plants we currently have a selection of roses available. 

Leadership development in Africa
We’re committed to working with our suppliers to help them develop the necessary skills and competencies to meet our requirements by offering a range of training and development opportunities. 

We’ve recently launched our Global Community Programme to benefit people in key sourcing regions including the UK, Asia and Africa. The programme’s key aim is to develop resilience and efficiency by empowering people in our supply chain. 

For example, the Emerging Leaders programme is providing leadership skills to workers in Kenya and South Africa who supply a wide range of produce including vegetables and flowers. The goal is to help these individuals come up with solutions that help business and the community. More than 20,000 people have taken part in the programme since May 2013. 

Water stewardship
Water scarcity and sustainable water resource management is quickly rising to the top of the agenda for many businesses, including Marks & Spencer. We are committed to working with our suppliers to improve their water efficiency and to encourage good water stewardship.

For example, Kenya is one of our major sourcing regions and water for irrigation is a concern. In particular, flower farms in the Great Rift Valley depend heavily on Lake Naivasha for irrigation which shrinks significantly during periods of drought putting these businesses and communities under threat.

In 2011, we co-sponsored a study to explore the value of water stewardship in Africa with the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) and GIZ with support from a number of other organisations. The work involved pilots at flower and vegetable farms in the Lake Naivasha Basin to explore the costs and benefits of standard implementation, and the implementations for local communities and wide basin governance. 

The Kenya case study is the first ever exploration of how a water stewardship standard could work in a developing country. The work investigated whether existing standards were fit-for-purpose and viable in delivering better water management in the challenging context of an African river basin. 

The outcomes of the study have been used to develop the first draft of what has become International Water Stewardship Standard

We have also worked with WWF to produce a Good Water Stewardship Guide, which provides a number of recommendations for improving water efficiency on farms.

Building on the water stewardship work in Kenya, we’re continuing to work with AWS and also WWF to identify and address water risks on our South African stone fruit farms, both through improved water management and collaborating with others in the catchment area. Find out more about our approach to sourcing fruit, vegetables and salad crops. 

Working with others 
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business. 

To develop our approach to sourcing flowers and plants to a high standard and more sustainably we’ve worked with many industry experts and scientists. We continue to work with these leading organisations (e.g. LEAF, Global GAP, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), Pesticide Action Network (PAN), Royal Horticultural Society, Kew Gardens, Royal Holloway, Reading University, ADAS) to further research and progress our standards. 

We’re working with a number of civil society organisations to enhance the lives of people and communities connected with our supply chain, including WWF, AWS, Flower Valley Conservation Trust, Emerging Leaders and Fairtrade International

Key documents