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Today we’ve published our 2017/18 Human Rights Update and, for the first time, we have integrated our sustainability and human Rights reports.

This reflects our belief that advancing ethics and environment must be tackled together to deliver systemic and transformative change. And we make clear links in our update to the company Annual Report recognising the risks posed by not taking action on human rights issues.

Never before has this subject been so important to us. 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’s update explains the steps we have taken to further 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’. Highlights include launching a financial literacy microsite for employees, running a second Diversity and Inclusion Festival, expanding our gender programme with the British High Commission in India and signing the Bangladesh transition Accord.

It’s been a year of good progress, but we are acutely aware that we have much more to do and we need to move faster. Our Human Rights Stakeholder Advisory Group feedback included in the report  rightly urges us to go further and be clearer on impact targets.

We’ve also published today our 2017/18 modern slavery statement which highlights our continued focus on raising awareness, strengthening due diligence and responsible recruitment ensuring employers pay the cost of employment.

For example, this year we held our first International Human Rights conference in India (see highlights film ). We brought together 250 attendees from our stores in India, our sourcing office and our Indian Clothing, IT, Logistics and Food suppliers. We were also honoured to be joined by external speakers including Coca Cola, BT, ETI, Freedom Fund, ETP, Traidcraft, Fairtrade, Unseen and representatives from the Indian, UK and Australian Governments. The event made it very clear to our suppliers that it is ok to find modern slavery. In fact, we expect them to as part of their due diligence. However, we made it abundantly clear that what matters is acting urgently to rescue the victims and to prevent that form of exploitation happening again. To support suppliers, we launched a Forced labour toolkit at the event.

Our statement includes more detail on our due diligence activity including our work with Fast Forward and the Gangmaster Licencing Abuse Authority.  We also share details on the numerous events we have spoken at and the collaborations we are actively working with in the hope this helps other business to fast track their performance.

We need greater collaboration between competitors, suppliers, governments, initiatives and civil society if we are to make faster traction and address this abhorrent crime. This is why we have signed the Anti-Slavery International charter and would urge other organisations to join too. .

Our aim is not just to minimise risk, our work commits us to making a positive impact and developing the business case for standing up for human rights. In this turbulent and volatile world, Plan A 2025, 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.