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In most of my discussions with suppliers concerns about finding labour is high on the agenda. In the UK the number of EU workers has been declining year on year, according to National Farmers Union last year shortages of seasonal workers hit almost 30% and the prediction is similar for 2019. Given the scale of commercial pressures faced by suppliers and the impact that shortages of workers could potentially have, responsible recruitment principles have never been more important. What makes recruitment responsible is the safeguards in place to protect the worker, support for businesses in overcoming low staff retention rates and alleviating the risks of modern day slavery taking place. Today there are 40.3 million people in modern slavery globally, of which 24.9million are in forced labour (ILO, 2017). Many of the victims were tricked or indebted into slavery – responsible recruitment is a key approach in reducing this number. M&S hold a steadfast commitment to champion the eradication of modern slavery, our belief is that with greater collaboration and education across sectors we can bolster the fight against this heinous crime. Cross industry collaborative initiatives  such as the Leadership Group for responsible recruitment and  Consumer Goods Forum Forced labour Priority Industry Principles are key to traction on responsible recruitment.

Responsible recruitment is much more than a catch phrase. If done correctly, it provides clear and quantifiable benefits to businesses and to workers in the UK and around the world. For workers, a responsible recruitment approach can help to protect their wellbeing by ensuring transparency and clarity in the process. A clearly defined approach to responsible recruitment is also key to sustainable and efficient business operations, making sure that businesses can attract and retain a highly skilled and motivated pool of employees even in conditions where there are shortages of labour.

Because of this, M&S has decided to focus an entire week on the importance of employing responsible recruitment in its supply chains. During this week, we will come together with our suppliers to build understanding of best practices, to share challenges, and to strengthen working to accelerate responsible recruitment throughout all our supply chains both in the UK and internationally.

Today, M&S, alongside five other retailers have taken proactive action to collaborate as Founding Sponsors of ResponsibleRecruitmentToolkit.org, the pioneering one-stop, practical capacity building tool supporting businesses to embed responsible recruitment practices in their supply chains. For the first time, experts have carefully mapped relevant international social compliance codes to define 27 responsible recruitment labour standards to cover all stages and elements of labour sourcing and supply.  As a Founding Sponsor, we are enabling our suppliers to utilise the Responsible Recruitment Toolkit to build capability, self-assess and report progress across all areas of responsible recruitment.

We know we cannot solve this issue by ourselves and with our suppliers, and will therefore bring together representatives from global brands, suppliers, recruitment agencies and industry associations to discuss the broader challenge and our responses to it. Governments have begun to make commitments – the UK, US, New Zealand and Canadian governments have agreed to a set of principles stating that governments should advance responsible recruitment policies and practices (UK Government, 2018). This requires not only policies to support responsible practice in this area, but also the development of a knowledge base of effective practices that can be shared more widely to drive forward action.  

As responsible recruitment week starts, we recognise that we need to do more, but we hope that this week will shine a spotlight on this important issue and enables others to understand the need to act for the benefit of all workers, ensure a sustainable and efficient business and address the threat of modern slavery.