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Global population is growing, but our planet isn’t.  So with more people to feed and clothe it’s no surprise that demand for certain crops, raw materials and resources will soon outstrip supply.   Fluctuations in availability linked to climate change only make things worse, as do other megatrends, such as a shortage of skilled agricultural workers due to rural-to-urban migration.

Growth in the emerging economies means the balance of power is shifting, particularly in Asia.  Increasingly, we need to work more strategically with suppliers to secure supply and to be the ‘customer of choice’. 

How can we do this? We believe our Plan A sustainability agenda can make M&S distinctive and attractive for suppliers worldwide by helping them become more efficient, resilient and competitive.  Investment in their workers and their environment makes good business sense.  We also have a history of using our brand leadership to collaborate with other brands, stakeholders and governments to influence and enable sustainable change.  We understand that as global issues become more pressing we need to intervene more effectively. 

This pragmatic approach explains why we’ve just launched our Global Community Programme (GCP) bringing together many different on-going initiatives under one banner - a move that simplifies our Plan A community story for suppliers, customers, colleagues and critically, local and global delivery partners.

We’ve set a clear vision - Driving growth and increased efficiency through partnerships along our supply chain - and a clear objective to become more resilient by empowering people in our supply chains to build more resilient local communities.  We’ve also narrowed our focus - on empowering women, producers and workers to improve their livelihoods, wellbeing and environment. 

The idea of ‘empowering’ rather than ‘helping’ is key in all this.  It’s a subtle shift because Plan A has already helped around 75,000 people since 2012 through some of our existing community programmes.  But incremental progress can’t take us much further - we need to spark transformative change and the best and only way to do this is to ‘empower’ people in our supply chains to improve their businesses and lives in profound and lasting ways.  This is about changing mindsets and giving people the tools to address key challenges for their businesses, their community and their lives. 

Many of our programmes have demonstrated that training on issues such as nutrition, financial management, sanitation, childcare, education, employability and community leadership skills gives people more control over their lives and consequently they are more motivated and efficient at work.  This transformation indirectly empowers their employers (our suppliers), who benefit from having a more reliable, productive and resilient workforce - a vital competitive edge.  It’s also about supporting raw material suppliers to adopt more sustainable farming, fishing, water stewardship and ecosystem services practices: to support economic development and secure supply for today and the future. 

To achieve our goals we will need to be more strategic in our approach and share a clearer vision for success with our delivery partners.  Together, we will build programmes around key priorities, with impacts that benefit all, aiming for a scale which stretches beyond our supply chain. 

To find out more about our Global Community Programme and possible get involved, please contact hazel.culley@marksandspencer.com


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