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Today is the 70th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and I think it’s fair to say that major anniversaries like this prompt us to take stock. When this document, affirming the rights and freedoms of all people, was drafted in 1948, fewer than 50 countries co-signed the legal text. Today, 193 countries affirm it.

Human rights are fundamental to everyone. They are the basis for people’s ability to achieve their economic, social, cultural and civil potential. Sustainable business can only succeed in societies in which human rights are respected, upheld and advanced and when business itself respects human rights. Today that is not always the case: 40.3million are in modern slavery, deepening inequality, declining trust, lack of respect for everyone’s right to basic human dignity, privacy and to achieve their potential pervades our society. The fact that the promise from signatories to the declaration is poorly kept brings no shame to the promise. Human rights are a relationship between the powerful and the powerless, an operating manual, that is both insufficient and essential. Whilst businesses role is not to replace the state’s role to protect human rights. We all must ensure that respect for human rights becomes an irremovable foundation of doing business: we are not there yet.

As Ban Ki Moon said ‘Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth... these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all’.  This reflects M&S belief that advancing ethics and environment must be tackled together to deliver systemic and transformative change. Promoting human rights and advancing sustainability has a key role to play in the M&S transformation. It is helping make our business and our supply chains more resilient and cost effective. It has an impact on how our customers perceive the value and quality of M&S products and it matters to our colleagues. Every single M&S employee has the ability to help make a positive societal impact and create a motivating, great place to work where people are fairly treated, rewarded, engaged and empowered to reach their potential. 

This year we have taken further action to embed human rights into our business. Our work is grouped around three key themes –  taking the lead on modern slavery, tackling in-work poverty and fostering an inclusive economy. These are underpinned by our commitment to robust governance and upholding ‘decent work’. We are continuing to make good traction engaging widely across our business and supplier partnerships, for example we’ve held two International Human Rights Conferences - Delhi and Istanbul, celebrated International Men’s Day, Black History Month and Pride just to name a few.

We are also increasing the transparency of our approach for example the external reporting our latest modern slavery statement and making our tools like our Modern slavery Toolkit open source.

Collaboration is vital to make traction; we are extending our work with numerous partners including IHRB leadership group on responsible recruitment, Stronger Together South Africa, Indian High Commission, Consumer Good Forum, a new WOW partnership with DFID and 3 year programme underway with Oxfam to understand impact of our purchasing practices on Human Rights.  

M&S has been delighted but very clear that this is just a beginning, to be recognised for our leadership in the 2018 Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) and FTSE 100 Modern slavery statements is great – but there is more to do 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. 

In this turbulent and volatile world, our business commitment to sustainability and Human Rights provides the deep social purpose we need to ‘anchor’ the M&S brand for customers and colleagues alike, giving practical expression to the enduring values that underpin everything this company does. On this 70th Anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights we are standing up for human rights and urging others to join us too.