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As an Ethical Trading Manager at M&S I think I have the best job in the world - highlights include world travel and 20% off the M&S pizza & prosecco deal! But let's be honest, when you tell someone you're an 'Ethical Trading Manager’ you're often going to be met with a blank face, and that's not surprising. Put simply my role is to work collaboratively with colleagues around the world to ensure that when you buy M&S clothes and homeware – whether it’s a £6 basic white t-shirt, an investment Autograph coat or bed linen – these products were created in factories that treat workers fairly. 

Ethical trading takes many forms: for example, ensuring fair wages are paid, there’s decent working conditions and making sure nobody works excessive hours.  However, it’s not just about compliance with our standards. We go above and beyond simply auditing and factory checks... and that’s where my job gets really exciting. 

Earlier this year we launched Plan A 2025 - for most people a 20-page document filled with ground-breaking aspirations for M&S. For me, it meant exciting new challenges for my role in the supply chain, building on the great work that's gone before. Some of these aspirations are very ambitious, for example we're aiming to have 25% of our supplier factories’ management positions filled by women by 2022. Right now, we're at about 3-5%.  Of course, we don't own these factories so there really does need to be a collaborative approach – with factory owners, NGOs, charities and brands and retailers - to meet these goals. It’s going to take time and hard work.

These aspirations are central to my role but, of course, many of our customers are unaware of the lengths we go to, which is one of the reasons I was so excited to go on a trip to Delhi with Marie Claire to talk about it - and you can read the journalist Nicola's take on it here. Working with publications like Marie Claire helps us tell our story to our customers and hopefully encourages others to engage on these important issues. 

The focus of Nicola’s piece is gender equality, a major issue in our supply chain (which you can see in that 5% stat). And you can see in her piece there are a number of programmes we’re supporting to help tackle just that. For example, we support Emerging Leaders, a programme that encourages everyone to hold their own pen, take control of their own life and ‘write’ their own story. It's taking this first step to hold your own pen which enables you to eventually lead others. To some it may sound simple but for women living in a patriarchal society, as many do in parts of India, it's anything but that. 

We celebrated National Inclusion Week last week at M&S, a reminder for us that sometimes holding your own pen, leading your own life and writing your own story isn’t that easy - not just if you're a woman in a tough area in India but perhaps a trans colleague joining a FTSE 100 office, a colleague with a disability working in a distribution centre or someone from an ethnic minority background running a store. As a company, we took this opportunity to reflect on the challenges we face as individuals and an organisation - both globally and here in the U.K. - and that’s something we need to keep doing. 

I said at the beginning I have the best job in the world - and I think I do, but more than anything because when we hit that ambitious target in 2022 and we have 25% female leadership in factories around the world, or even if we just come close, I'll know my work and the work of my colleagues and partners will have made a massive difference to people's lives - including the women in the factories of Delhi who were so inspirational in telling their stories to Nicola at Marie Claire; you only have to read that article to know it. 

There are 31 commitments for Clothing & Home in Plan A 2025, 14 are specific to ethical trading. Those listed below are specific to women’s rights and gender equality - 

  • Between 2017 and 2025 our Global Community Programme will benefit one million people in our supply chain communities by working in partnership with others to help build livelihoods, protect the environment and improve wellbeing – focussing on our areas of biggest human rights and environmental impact. 
  • By 2019, we will help advance women’s human rights and combat gender discrimination by launching programmes and initiatives that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in our business and supply chains.  
  • By 2022 we aim for our Food and Clothing & Home first-tier manufacturing sites to have 25% women in management positions.  
  • By 2020 all workers in our first-tier Food, Clothing and Home manufacturing sites will have the opportunity to be paid digitally.