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Fast forward 137 years and these founding values – which we would now term as ethical trade - have been codified into our Global Sourcing principles, with the aim of ensuring that every person who works in our supply chain is treated fairly and their human rights are respected and promoted. 

Our supplier relationships remain built on open and transparent discussion, with a shared culture of continuous improvement. Through our transformation programme we are seeking to re-build our supply base as our founders did, with employee engagement and great employment practice as their cornerstone.

But if we’re serious about ensuring that everyone who works with, as well as for, M&S is treated with decency and respect, then we must hold a mirror up and make sure the reflection is true. For this reason, we asked Oxfam to conduct a ‘gap analysis’ of our supply chain in India and the UK – in fact, we were the first retailer to do so – to help us better understand the true worker experience and identify the changes we need to make in our own operations and those of our suppliers. Focusing on ‘worker voice’ along with living wages and gender equality, this issue of worker voice was chosen in collaboration with Oxfam as it was identified as an area where existing sector-wide social processes could be improved. 

We are incredibly grateful to Oxfam for the diligence they have shown in compiling this report, and for being a challenging, critical and constructive partner. Whilst we can take heart in Oxfam’s recognition of best practice and the strength of our standards in this independent report, we can only make real progress by focusing on where we – and the wider sector – need to take action and that’s why we’re sharing this report and our response in full (Working in Marks and Spencer’s Food and Footwear Supply Chains).

Of course, our first and most immediate action was to remediate and resolve all of the worker concerns raised in the report with our participating suppliers and corrective plans have now been implemented and are being regularly monitored at every site. Alongside this, within our published response, we’ve shared the actions we have and will take against each of Oxfam’s specific recommendations and set out our 2021 priorities to further strengthen our corporate governance, enhance human rights training and engagement programmes for colleagues and finally, to scale and roll-out our worker voice programmes. 

Whilst social audits remain a key tool for businesses, the findings have made clear that nothing beats hearing directly from workers. Oxfam’s research also reinforces the insight that more effective worker–management dialogue would support the resolution of other more entrenched societal issues relating to the progress of women and in-work poverty. That’s why, as part of our wider response, we have taken action to supplement our existing audits and quickly scale our successful work voice pilot programmes - including our leading app-based worker survey with nGaje, which will now reach over 500 food sites in the UK by 2022. 

But setting standards and investing in our own supply chains, however rigorous and exacting, can only set a baseline. To effect real change, particularly in an era of increasingly complex globalised supply chains, you have to work with others. Although we are competitors – we know we share the same concerns – and in many cases share the same sites.

For that reason, the independent report from Oxfam is being shared openly and transparently. We’re also committed to sharing the framework of our worker voice programme and our learning of what is working with the with the wider industry to support meaningful change at scale for the people who work in our supply chains.