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Environmental risks and social inequality are making the world more complicated and unpredictable. The size and complexity of most sustainability and societal issues mean they cannot be addressed by any one solution or organisation. 

Our goal is to deliver sustainable value for our stakeholders through the high quality, own brand products we offer in the UK and internationally. To do this, we must look beyond our operations to the wider supply chain, where the biggest impacts occur. Simply put, we cannot deliver Plan A alone. 

It is important to recognise that no-one has all the insights, resources or networks to deal with these complex issues. Capacity building has varying interpretations, but to us it’s about what we are doing to fill these gaps. It can include providing training and guidance to our suppliers, sharing insights about our business or sector with civil society, working collaboratively with our industry peers, helping governments craft effective public policy and a whole range of other activities. The overriding objective is to make individuals or organisations stronger and better equipped to deal with global environmental, social and economic change. 

Partnership has always been at the heart of Plan A. We appreciate that it can be challenging for our suppliers to meet our sustainability requirements and whilst we need to be demanding we also need to help incentivise. Through collaborative working and advocacy we aim to achieve shared objectives and mutually beneficial economic, social and environmental outcomes.

Commitments and targets
Our ambition is to accelerate change by leading with others. We’re committed to achieve this by working collaboratively with a broad range of stakeholders: suppliers, civil society, the science community, governments, customers and other businesses. 

We focus on challenges that are important to our business and where we can most effectively influence change.

We have an aspiration to be a leading major retailer on sustainability, but we can only achieve this if we are able to spark systemic, innovative change within our supply base. We need suppliers to be able to stay ahead in a rapidly evolving and complex commercial world. We recognise that it can be difficult for many suppliers to see what this brings in terms of direct benefits to them. We need to understand and be sensitive to these issues. Capacity building is absolutely essential to making this happen.

Whilst ongoing monitoring of compliance is of course necessary and useful, it is not the be all and end all. For instance, solely focusing on individual non-compliances can result in underlying issues being missed. In addition, this approach may not identify emerging issues or trends, or promote the development of a continuous improvement culture within our supply base. 

We therefore complement our approach to compliance by going ‘beyond’ and defining areas of collaboration that will promote continuous improvement with our suppliers. We do this by providing a range of capacity building tools and incentives to align our respective goals and objectives. This includes capacity in terms of resources, technical skills, knowledge, as well as research and development. 

Our ultimate goal though is to make sustainable production the norm and for it to be fully integrated into global supply chains. To achieve this change at a global scale and rapid pace, we need to think beyond the capabilities of our business and supply chains by working with industry partners and other stakeholders. 

Our approach to capacity building focuses on:

Enhancing sustainability capability within our supply base
Wage Digitisation (2020)

Opening bank accounts for those who were previously unbanked and processing direct transfer of salaries to bank accounts for low-income factory workers using biometrics such as fingerprints rather than documentation has had a direct, positive, wage-related impact for the worker in many ways:

  • Living wage increase through reduction of leakage and corruption associated with cash salary payments;
  • Security of cash
  • Income on their cash
  • Social inclusion
  • Becoming part of the formal economy
  • Financial security and control leads to a desire to further improve education and promotion opportunities in workers
Health Programme (2020)

Targeting women garment workers and their communities, this health project delivers immediate and midterm interventions, to support and re-stabilise community health care systems and services, deliver targeted health messaging and communications in and around factories, and build community-level capacity for collective action. The project complements workplace safety guidelines already being implemented in factories and a result of these interventions, the garment supply chain  benefits from safer working conditions, reduced absenteeism and improved productivity. 

The project strengthens the functionality of public-private healthcare networks to maintain crucial services and improve linkages between facilities and factories for reduced long-term health consequences. Women garment workers are supported to become community leaders to mobilise WASH interventions benefiting themselves, their families and communities.

We have run this project in Cambodia and Bangladesh, with lighter versions in India, Sri Lanka and China.

Workplace Communications (2019)

Effective workplace engagement is key to achieving a healthy workplace environment. It is important to start by building trust through efforts to improve information provision and consultation with workers. 

To help our suppliers in this task we have a Workplace Communications programme - a two day training course and toolkit available for all our suppliers. It sets out how to develop or improve the provision of, and management interaction with, trade unions, worker committees, effective communication channels and trade union relationships. 

Eco Factory Programme (2011-2017)

Eco Factory Programme Launched in 2011, ‘Eco Factory’ status is similar to the C-100 Factory Energy Reduction Programme however measures are taken on energy efficiency, renewable energy, water and waste as well as more extensive measures on lighting, insulation and temperature control. The factory should adhere to our minimum standards, have good environmental management. We also encourage factories to consider third party certification, such as the LEED scheme, WWF Low Carbon Manufacturing Programme, ISO 14001, or other schemes approved at M&S’ discretion. 

The starting point for many factories is achieving C-100 status. However, the Eco Factory Programme is open to all clothing and home factories. 

We have developed an Eco Factory Self-Assessment tool for factories to use with supporting Grading Guide. Factories need to achieve scores of over 80% to achieve M&S ‘Eco Factory’ status. Third party certification is only scored if relevant and failure to comply with our minimum standards (e.g. Global Sourcing Principles) results in an automatic failure. 

Factories send their completed self-assessments to the M&S regional offices teams for their review who then organise for a site visit to confirm the assessment. If the regional office agrees that the factory has achieved the necessary scores they will be granted ‘Eco Factory’ status. If factories do not pass the assessment an action plan is developed and a follow-up assessment is scheduled for a later date. 

As of the end of December 2017 we had 180 factories which had achieved M&S Eco Factory status producing around 40% of total products sold. An Eco Factory will typically reduce their energy by 20-40%. A small number of factories have also achieved both Eco Factory and Ethical Excellence status (see below). 

All M&S products produced in an approved Eco Factory are eligible for a Plan A product attribute. To maintain the attribute the factory’s status is reviewed every 3-6 months.

Find out more about our approach to product sustainability.

Ethical Model Factory Programme (2007 - 2012)
We developed our original Ethical Model Factory programme for our Clothing & Home suppliers during 2007. Our goal was to set up factories that could demonstrate best practice for ethical compliance, illustrate solutions to difficult ethical issues and consult with its workforce giving equal rights and better pay and conditions. To achieve this three training programmes were set up to help increase workers’ wages: 

  • Workers’ rights training (20 hours) covering topics such as hours, wages, holidays, contractors, payslips, discrimination, misconduct, and housekeeping
  • Human resource (HR) systems and industrial relations management training (14 hours) covering topics such as grievance procedures, recruitment policy, organisational behaviour, communications and worker committees for middle management and HR personnel
  • Productivity training for industrial engineers and production line management which includes analysis and measurement of existing production methods
The programme was piloted in 11 factories in Bangladesh between 2008 and 2011. We extended the programme to 2 factories in India in 2012.  

We partnered with local organisations including GIZ (the German Government Development Agency), the Bangladesh Institute of Management (BIM) and General Sewing Data (GSD) to deliver the training.

We also commissioned PwC to carry out a study to identify the net benefits created through the programme. This concluded that there was a quantifiable financial figure per worker which was shown in the increase in their wages. 

During the period of the pilot the programme trained over 38,000 workers on employee rights. In addition 130 supervisors and middle managers received 14 hours of training each on HR policies and procedures, industrial relations and behavioural skills. The programme resulted in wage increases between 12% and 54%. This work has continued and on average wages at our supplier factories in Bangladesh are now 60% above the current minimum wage. 

Ethical Excellence Factories (2011 - 2019)

We took the learnings of the Model Ethical Factory programme and drew on elements of our Foods Sustainability Scorecard to develop our Ethical Excellence Factories programme which was rolled out in 2011. 

In order to achieve Ethical Excellence status, factories must:

  • Achieve our minimum standards on their last two annual ethical audit with no outstanding issues associated with the previous audit
  • Complete an M&S Ethical Excellence Factory Self-Assessment

Those factories that achieve Ethical Excellence status can demonstrate that they have world class working conditions and outstanding HR practices in all areas including payment of living wages. The headline measures required are:

Health & Safety Demonstration of health and safety initiatives beyond audit requirements 
WorkingConditionsEvidence of World Class Working Conditions and verification of conditions through existence of a worker survey 
Child Labour and Young Workers Existence of clear child labour policy and procedures for young workers 
Living Wages Demonstration and verification that all workers are paid above the legal minimum wage and towards living wage figures (where they exist) 
Working Hours Procedures and policies exist to ensure correct working hours are done and overtime is within legal limits 
Management Systems Demonstration that the factory employs outstanding HR and management systems 
Freedom of Association Existence of a method of Freedom of Association must be in place in the factory from a fully operational workers committee, to a union or other parallel means (e.g. Collective Bargaining Agreement)
Employment Conditions Existence of policies ensuring Freedom of Association covering regular labour, temporary or contract workers
Discrimination Demonstration of policies of procedures which ensure no discrimination in any area of employment
Discipline & Grievance Procedures Existence of policies in place covering areas of discipline and fully operational grievance procedure in place
Training Demonstrate that effective training programmes are in place for all levels of workers and management 

Factories send their completed self-assessments to the M&S Ethical Trading team for their review, if factory meets minimum scoring the Ethical Trading team will organise a site visit to confirm the assessment. Factories deemed by M&S to have met the criteria will be awarded ‘Ethical Excellence’ status.  All M&S products produced in an Ethical Excellence factory are also eligible for a Plan A product attribute. To maintain the attribute the factory’s status is formally reviewed every 6 months. M&S also carry out factory verification audits/visits on a regular basis to confirm the conditions required for approval are maintained. Find out more about our approach to product sustainability.

We currently have 19 Ethical Excellence Factories which includes all factories which originally took part in the earlier Model Ethical Factory pilot programme.

Find out more about our approach to supplier management.

Workers’ Rights Training Programme (2010 - 2020)
We’re committed to working with our suppliers to help them develop the necessary skills and competencies to meet our requirements by offering an extensive range of training and development opportunities. We believe that worker training is a critical element in achieving an excellent workplace. 

Our workers’ rights training programmes cover a range of topics including employees’ roles, responsibilities and rights, basic health care, fire safety, numeracy and literacy and our Global Sourcing Principles. They are delivered by our Ethical Trading team or specialist third parties through a variety of formats including e-learning, presentations, workshops, practical assessments, webinars or case studies.  

We actively encourage our supply base to take part in our training programmes and help our suppliers find the right course to meet the needs of the workers or the factory. We aim to provide a training and education programme for 800,000 workers by 2020.

We’ve launched a series of initiatives in partnership with third parties. These courses range from financial literacy, to employee rights, understanding contracts, pay and holiday entitlement, fire safety training to health awareness and life skills training.  

For example, since 2012 we’ve implemented a Fire Safety programme in all factories in Bangladesh with Worldwide Responsible Accreditation Production (WRAP). The programme is unique to M&S due to its fire champion module which takes workers right through from how fires start, the context and risks within the workplace, to how to effectively evacuate the workplace, the importance of safe practices and how they play a part in reducing the risk of fire in the workplace and their homes. By December 2015 all of our garment factories had a worker fire champion in place and by the end of March 2016 130,000 workers had received this training. 

In 2012, we piloted a Workplace Communications programme with garment suppliers in Turkey for 12 months. Based on the experience, we developed a global Workplace Communication module for all our suppliers which sets out how to develop or improve the provision of, and management interaction with, trade unions, worker committees, effective communication channels and trade union relationships. By the end of March 2016, over 40,000 workers in our garment supply chain in China, Sri Lanka and Turkey have received this training. 

Through our Ethical Model Factory Programme (see above) we developed a comprehensive worker rights training programme with GIZ. This programme was developed in conjunction with local stakeholders and workers, and covers all elements of the ETI Base Code, in addition to other elements directly related to workers’ rights. The format of this training programme enables the basis for mature industrial relations by promoting active dialogue between management and workers. This training is an ongoing programme and as of the end of March 2016 169,699 hours of supplier training have reached 32,296 individuals.

In addition to our own programmes we invest in a number of advocacy and collaborative working initiatives (see below) which include training. For example, M&S suppliers in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka provide work experience and employment opportunities for more than 250 people with disabilities. Our work on youth unemployment has grown significantly in recent years as we have worked with our suppliers to share best practice and encourage similar programmes. This is part of a larger programme which we helped to found in 2013 called Movement to Work which, since launch, has created nearly 15,000 vocational training and work experience opportunities for young people.

We’ve also run worker programmes to benefit people in key regions of the world where we source our products, including the UK, Asia and Africa. The key aim has been to develop resilience and efficiency by empowering people in our supply chain. For example, in partnership with Geosansar since 2012, 15,626 workers in India have received financial literacy training over 115 training sessions across 27 factories in Bangalore, Ludhiana, Tirupur, Coimbatore, Delhi and Chennai. In total, over 31,000 bank accounts have been opened by workers and others in the communities surrounding the factories and 70% of workers now have savings. 

Between 2010 and 2020, we provided training to more than 1 million workers in our Clothing & Home supply chain.

ISO 26000 - Sustainability Management Framework Pilot Project (2013 - 2015)
We are continuously looking for tools to help suppliers to develop their own strategies and ways of working to improve their sustainability performance. While several international standards exist for quality and environmental elements of manufacture very few are available for employee rights and working conditions. However, in 2013, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) launched a new tool – ISO 26000 – the international standard developed to help organizations effectively assess and address those social responsibilities that are relevant and significant to their mission and vision; operations and processes; customers, employees, communities, and other stakeholders and we were the first retailer worldwide to look at implementing ISO 26000 in its supply chain. 

8 of our largest clothing manufacturers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh agreed to participate in the pilot to integrate the standard’s principles of social and environmental sustainability into their business strategy. 

The project commenced in 2013 with a three-day capacity building workshop in New Delhi where our CEO introduced the concept, highlighting how important sustainability was to M&S. Each supplier received information and training on ISO 26000, the project expectations, and information on potential costs. 

Over a period of 18 months the following steps were taken:

  • Gap analysis using a self-evaluation tool developed for M&S and professional support available from the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII)
  • An assessment by CSR Company International – an independent sustainability consultancy
  • An action plan based on the principles of ISO 26000
  • A scorecard for implementing the agreed actions in the day-to-day running of the factories (from top management level to the ‘shop floor’)
Nine months after the first workshop each supplier was visited by CSR Company International and M&S to confirm that all aspects were being applied consistently and correct. If the assessment was positive the supplier was granted ‘Gold’ status and were rewarded with fewer ethical audits. All eight suppliers successfully completed the programme and achieved ‘Gold’ status and continue to be some of most progressive suppliers.

The project was completed in June 2015 and we’re currently reflecting on the outcomes of the programme.

Gender Programme (Ongoing)

Women play important roles as consumers, salaried and waged workers, entrepreneurs, own account and smallholder family labour within every tier of global value chains, from retail through distribution to production and primary inputs. However, in every role and at every tier, women continue to face barriers from violence to social inequalities, lack of access to resources and limited opportunities for progression. This has a ripple effect on families, communities, companies and even economies.

We are delivering a number of projects to help address these issues including research to understand what leadership looks like for women and the specific barriers to achieving this, delivery of health-based projects, financial literacy projects including digitisation of wages for all workers and training to tackle gender-based violence. Our broader suite of programmes focus on issues including worker voice, leadership skills and fire health and safety which also support the empowerment and progression of women in our supply chain.

We work closely with all of our suppliers to achieve positive impacts and partner with organisations including; Better Work, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, British High Commission, Business for Social Responsibility, Care International, DFID, Ethical Trade Initiative, GSK and ILO amongst others to help deliver our work.

Supporting market transformation through working with industry partners and other stakeholders
Advocacy (Ongoing)
Most of the sustainability issues we face can’t be resolved by a single organisation, or by implementing one solution. We frequently advocate a specific position or approach to an issue in order to promote wide-scale change at the right pace – focusing on public policy and thought leadership. 

Public policy can help make change easier (e.g. setting guiding principles, offering incentives, regulation, and so on) or it can get in the way. And contributing to thought leadership is important to ensure that the retail sector transforms itself as quickly as possible. 

We’ve developed a bilateral relationship with the Department for International Development (DFID) to facilitate dialogue at various levels, including policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and exploratory discussions to identify areas of potential collaboration.

We’re active members of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Labour Working Group and work collaboratively with key stakeholders like the ETI on consultations on new legislation and on collective response to key issues. Through our membership of the Consumer Goods Forum we’re to helping to drive global collaboration between retailers and manufacturers and thereby address forced labour. 

Collaborative working (Ongoing)
Partnership and collaborative working has always been at the heart of Plan A. This is because we know we need outside knowledge and expertise to help us understand what changes are required and how best to achieve them. We invest in partnerships that deliver tangible outcomes, working at all levels – from local communities to international forums. 

In pursuit of our goal to eliminate deforestation from the use of key commodities in the production of products by 2020 we’re working collaboratively with a number of organisations such as WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Find out more about our approach to protecting forests.

Through our collaborations with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Textiles Exchange, Sustainable Clothing Action Programme, and Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZHDC) we are working with others to improve the sustainability of the global apparel and textiles industry.  

We’re also helping to drive convergence in responsible sourcing practices. For example, through our involvement in the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) we’re sharing best practice on data, assessments, training of auditors and audit quality. We’re also an active member of a number of multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). 

We also helping to improve labour standards through our participation in initiatives such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, ILO Better Work and Better Factories Cambodia.

We are members of the BSR HER Project working group and have run the HER Project programme to increase women’s health awareness and access to health services in 5 countries – China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Kenya. 10,000 women workers have now been trained.

Supporting programmes that build resilient supply chain communities
Worker Programmes

We actively work with our suppliers on supporting workers in our supply chain on programmes including leadership skills, financial literacy and health. 

For example, we decided to work with Emerging Leaders an NGO that provided leadership training to around 50,000 supply chain workers in Kenya, east Africa and South Africa, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The training takes participates on an incredible journey to a new mind-set and empowers them to take 

others on the same journey as leaders in their communities. Many tell us that the programme has led to improved productivity, better retention of high quality, motivated employees and less dependency on casual labour.

Another example is where we developed HealthWorks with Project Hope and the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC) to address simple root causes of absenteeism, and fatigue and increase health and nutritional awareness in 7 factories in Cambodia. We trained over 14,000 workers and upskilled the medical professionals on site to help improve employee health as well as workplace productivity.