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Environmental and social issues have long swirled around the clothing industry but recent months have seen an elevation of this debate into the public’s consciousness. Whether throwaway fashion, climate change, human rights, microfibers or packaging more and more people are questioning how we consume clothing.

We take these issues very seriously, addressing them is at the heart of how we do business. We anticipated greater expectations of business 10 years ago with our detailed 100 point sustainability plan, Plan A, which set bold goals to improve every aspect of our business,

Below we’ve laid out 10 key steps we’ve taken to make our clothing and home business more sustainable.

1. Quality, quality, quality – the fundamental underpin for the journey towards sustainable clothing and homeware, we make things our customers cherish, that they can be confident will have a second life even when they’ve finished with them.

2. We use the best raw materials

  • Cotton – by 2019 100% of the cotton we use will be from a more sustainable source, that’s over 50,000 tonnes of cotton produced using significantly less water, pesticides and fertiliser and providing 100,000s of smallholders with a better income. We’ve also worked with Prince Charles' International Sustainability Unit and the Textiles Exchange to build a coalition of 50 companies across the world committed to only using sustainable cotton. We’ve banned all cotton sourcing from Uzbekistan because of its poor environmental and social record and recently banned cotton from Turkmenistan too.
  • High animal welfare standards – we’ve banned the use of angora and mohair as we cannot currently be sure our high expectations on animal welfare can be met. For leather we’re working with the Leather Working Group to help the industry improve its standards whilst for wool we’ve long banned the worst practice of mulesing and we are now promoting product meeting the Responsible Wool Standard.
  • Tackling micro-plastics  – Nearly two years ago we spotted the risk that man-made fibres pose as they shed micro-plastics as they are used, washed and dried and joined the European Outdoor Group’s research efforts to find solutions to this growing problem.
  • 100% sustainable wood – We use wood extensively, not just in furniture and other homeware but also packaging, magazines and store décor. It’s all from a sustainable source.

3. Dyeing and finishing is integral to making beautiful clothing but the chemicals used can be very polluting. We’ve got an industry leading code of practice that bans the worst pollutants and controls carefully the use of other materials.

4. Hundreds of thousands of workers around the world contribute to making our clothing in 100s of different factories. We know where all these factories are, indeed we publish their names on an on-line transparency map, visit and inspect them regularly. They are all covered by our Global Sourcing Principles (GSPs) and our high expectations that workers' human rights will be up held. Our Modern Slavery Statement has been ranked as a leader in the FTSE100.

5. Our stores are making a difference too. We send zero waste to landfill from our stores, offices and warehouses, anything we don’t need is sent off for recycling. This includes clothing samples and unsold stock which are donated to Newlife and Oxfam to be given a second life. Every one of our stores volunteers and fund raises in their community. We take climate change seriously, it’s a scientific fact and it’s going to have huge implications for our way of life if we don’t take urgent action to tackle it. We’ve made our stores 40% more energy efficient in the last decade and we’ve made our own operations globally carbon neutral to accelerate climate action.

6. However good our clothing is eventually our customers will be finished with it so we’ve made it easy for them to recycle used clothing with our Shwopping partnership with Oxfam which has seen over 30 million garments donated in the last 10 years and £21 million raised for people living in extreme poverty.

7. We know our customers care about what they buy from us but we also know that the issues and choices involved can be overwhelming. We know they don’t want a niche ethical range in a corner of a store, they want every product they buy from us to be a better one so we’ve got a goal of ensuring that every one of the 300 million + clothing and home products we sell has at least one sustainability story to tell by 2020, today we’re at 75%. And by 2025 every product will have multiple positive social and environmental stories to tell.

8. Whilst plastic packaging is not as prevalent as in the food sector, clothing and homeware is not without its challenges. We’ve signed up to WRAP’s Plastic Pact to make our packaging 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. And we’re already recycling tens of millions of coat hangers.

9. We want to be a socially useful business in all that we do. We have the largest lingerie business in the UK. Sadly one of the main causes of premature death in women is breast cancer so we’ve worked in partnership with Breast Cancer Now to raise £28m since 2001 to help fund its long term generations study following the health of 100,000 women to better understand the disease with the aim of preventing 9,000 breast cancer deaths by 2025.

10. We’ve just launched a new range of clothing specially designed for children living with disabilities. It’s been designed to accessible but also inclusive with little or no design difference with the traditional ranges we offer.

And all our work is supported by robust, independent assurance. You’ll find our latest detailed report here

So we’ve achieved a lot in the last decade to help make our clothing and homeware business more sustainable BUT we know we have so much more to do.

The M&S promise is simple, to recognise that great clothing is based on raw materials, dye-houses, factories, shops and aftercare that respects the needs of our customers, communities and planet alike.