Human Rights: We need more collaborative action to gain traction

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14 November 2018

On Monday, M&S was ranked fourth in the 2018 Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB), which assesses how some of the world’s largest companies have performed in human rights. The results show that many businesses are still early in their journey to embed respect for human rights. Human rights issues are endemic in our interconnected global supply chains. If we are to gain greater traction, we all need more businesses to step up and act together. 

We are delighted to be recognised by CHRB for our leadership in both the Apparel and Food sectors, particularly the recognition of our efforts on transparency, remedies, policy commitments and human rights practices. Much of what we have done to date could only be achieved by collaborating with likeminded businesses and organisations. Collaboration is vital, and we need more of it to create an impact. This week, M&S signed the UK Government’s Modern Slavery Taskforce to work with enforcement agencies and other businesses to help eradicate modern slavery and act against labour exploitation in the UK garment industry. This builds on our activity in the food sector, where we’ve played a key role in founding of the former TLWG, which became the GLAA, as well as founding initiatives like Association of Labour Providers, Forced Labour principles at Consumer Goods Forum, the Modern Slavery Helpline and Stronger Together, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this week.

Benchmarks, campaigns and legislation can be hugely helpful in creating the momentum to level the playing field. As Phil Bloomer of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre outlined, we need three key drivers to help accelerate change: Access to cheaper capital based on lower human rights risks, more effective legislation and enforcement and finally, greater pressure from investors to ensure companies do the right thing.  

On 10th December, we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, formed at the end of WWII to prevent similar atrocities from happening again. Eleanor Roosevelt reminded the world in her speech in 1948 that human rights need to be respected in “all the small places” – including factories and workplaces. Seven years ago, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights asked companies to “know and show” their human rights due diligence, actively gain knowledge about risks to people working both directly and indirectly for them and to be transparent about what they find and the preventative steps they’ve put in place.

The findings from recent benchmarks like Know the Chain, Behind the Barcodes, Fashion Transparency index and CHRB, as well as regular stories of labour abuse, demonstrate that we have a long way to go. It’s proof that we need more collaborative action to gain traction, so we’re calling on other businesses to get involved and help create a change. Every day we all make decisions that can have a positive or negative impact on people. Working together, we can maximise our positive impact.

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