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Our sustainable factories programme is right at the centre of our efforts to drive Plan A within M&S Foods. The programme targets sites reaching best practice across the three pillars of Ethical, Environment and Lean Manufacturing.

It’s fair to say the programme is a marathon rather than a sprint. It’s a long road getting our factories started, through the framework, and validated as best practice.  In the last two years, we’ve validated 23% of our sites at best practice ‘silver’ level, but by 2020, this needs to increase to 75%.

So how can we help our sites go faster?  Since 2013 we’ve been asking suppliers to self-assess against the framework within an online database. This means we have a wealth of data on how to join the dots on sustainability within manufacturing.  We’ve found that whereas sites may score well on the ethical (people-related) framework, they are finding the lean framework, which is all about manufacturing excellence, much more challenging.

This struck an immediate chord with us.  Within M&S we think ethical trade is absolutely about ensuring workers’ rights are respected and that vulnerable groups are treated fairly.  But we also focus on the power that an engaged workforce and ‘a great place to work’ has on business outcomes: put simply people who are treated well, make better products, more efficiently. 

So when we see that 51% of suppliers achieve best practice on HR, but only 36% on lean, we see potential. That’s why last week we took 20 of our top suppliers through a ‘Lean for HR’ course, helping them to understand the pivotal role that people management can play in delivering lean business success.

The course brought attendees up to speed on the concept of lean business models, including a ‘lean simulation’ exercise.  We took delegates through what M&S is looking for within the lean framework, and discussed how HR can drive improvement faster, including through recruitment, reward and coaching.

We found that ultimately modern workplaces can only succeed where responsibility is moved downwards within the organisation.  By engaging people successfully, workplace can unlock their ability to solve problems and generate improvements.  By treating people at every levels of the organisations with respect and as ‘value-adders’ with valuable ideas and skills to contribute, people become motivated and sites become more productive.

We were delighted to find that 95% of attendees fed back positively on the event and 92% felt it would accelerate their site’s journey to silver level.  Comments included ‘good, clear, engaging event’ and ‘genuinely inspired by this training’.  We are convinced by the business value of ethical trade, and our next steps are to publish a ‘Lean for HR’ toolkit for suppliers and look to run further Lean for HR events.  We’ll also be following up on those involved with the first course to make sure they apply what they learnt back at their workplaces.

Meanwhile our broader Great Places to Work’ agenda continues with a lot more planned for next year – be sure to check here for updates.