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We listen to our local communities, our customers and our employees, to make sure we understand their changing needs and are best placed to help them deal with issues such as unemployment or poverty and to improve their health and wellbeing.

We’ve supported our local communities throughout our 130 year history, because we know that vibrant communities are essential for our success. As David Sieff, a member of the M&S founding family, said: “healthy high streets need healthy backstreets”.

We’re committed to support social cohesion, economic prosperity and inclusive growth - by being relevant in local neighbourhoods worldwide, be they in Bristol, Mumbai or Shanghai. We want to be a brand that employees are proud to work for and that customers can trust.

Commitments and targets

Our goal is to create a positive impact in society and improve peoples’ lives wherever we touch them.

We’re committed to listen to our stakeholders to help us understand social issues and decide what role we can play in helping to find solutions. When working with others, we try to identify shared objectives for our programmes and to assess the mutual social, environmental and business value collaboration brings.

We aim to take a progressive approach to our community engagement. This is reflected in our Plan A commitments on employability, being in touch with the local community, identifying partnership benefits and supporting global communities.


Our approach covers our whole value chain and includes employees, customers, workers in our supply chain, charity partners and local communities around the world. 

We’ve identified four ways in which we can make a material difference as a retailer:
Helping people who face barriers getting into work
Marks & Start is our flagship employability programme. It helps people who face barriers getting into work to gain skills and experience through work placements. Since 2004, we’ve supported over 20,000 single parents, people with disabilities or health conditions, people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and disadvantaged young people. Participants undertake a 2-4 week placement along with coaching and a 'buddy', enabling them to learn about roles in M&S and gain real insight into working in retail. In return we get access to a larger pool of potential talent, ultimately creating a more diverse workforce. Involvement also engages and motivates our employees who serve as buddies.  At present, Business in the Community, Remploy and The Prince’s Trust help us deliver Marks & Start. The programme has been launched in our stores in Greece and India, and with suppliers in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Our Marks & Start programme was put on hold in March 2020, as we worked through the best way to operate the programme to ensure the most benefits to participants, while being mindful of the changing operation within our stores. We restarted Marks & Start in October 2020 in more than 100 UK store locations, continuing our partnership with The Prince's Trust. Using digital technology, we were able to facilitate the programme safely through online learning sessions. This saw us offer 350 placements, with 87% of participants being offered a role on completion of the programme.

In 2013, in response to the sharp rise of young people not in employment, we identified a need to do more to address youth unemployment. We launched Make Your Mark, together with The Prince’s Trust, to help unemployed 18-24 year olds. This saw us take our existing young people element of Marks & Start, supporting approximately 150 young people per year, and we multiped it by 10 to support 1,500 young people a year. We are delighted that over 60% of them have gone into work after the programme.

We were also instrumental in setting up Movement to Work, a wider industry collaboration that aims to provide youth employment opportunities. Since its launch, Movement to Work employers have created more than 90,000 vocational training and work experience opportunities for young people, with an estimated average into-work rate of 50%.
Ensuring we are in touch with our local communities

Our customers and colleagues have told us that their local community matters to them, the place where they live and work.

In 2017 we launched a pilot called “The 10 Communities Programme” to test how we could make a bigger impact in our local communities. The pilot ran for 18 months and the learnings are being taken forward. Please read the summary report here and discover more about:

  • How we used data and listened to people in the communities to understand the needs 
  • The activities we delivered across two key focus areas; social wellbeing and education & employability 
  • The results and learnings from the pilot

We provide our employees with one day's paid time off for volunteering, offer payroll giving facilities and run employee volunteer awards. For the last 3 years M&S has organised a dedicated Volunteer Week which our colleagues participate in. On average 4000-5000 colleagues volunteer each year with approximately 450 community organisations up and down the country. Projects range from career days with schools, organising tea parties for older people to revamping community gardens.

Each store also chooses one local charity to fundraise for during the year. In total across all of our stores this raises approximately £1 million each year.  

All of our stores also donate surplus food to local community organisations and foodbanks using a social platform called Neighbourly. 

UK retail is currently experiencing rapid and significant changes. Partly as a consequence of out of town shopping centres and online retail services, many town centres now need revitalising. We have supported Business in the Community’s (BITC) Place Campaigns. We have been strong supporters of their Business Connectors and Healthy High Street campaigns, by providing senior management secondees from our business. Both programmes aim to address social and business needs by creating thriving communities and high streets.

Through M&S Energy we have run our Community Energy Fund to enable more communities to generate renewable energy and become more environmentally and financially sustainable. We awarded funding to renewable energy projects in Great Britain which could demonstrate they have the support of their local community.

Inspiring millions of customers to help good causes

Every time a customer shops with an M&S Sparks Card, M&S donates 1p to a charity of their choice. Since 2015, M&S has donated nearly £7 millon to our Sparks charities. In 2020, the list of charities expanded from 10 to 35 charities to offer a wider selection to customers. 

As a diverse retail business, no single charity partner can help us address pressing issues in society. We do however aim to work with fewer charities than in the past and build more effective strategic partnerships with those that address the needs that our employees and customers care about.

We ask leadership teams in our business units to decide what they want to achieve with customers and what they can offer potential charity partners in terms of money, specialist skills, awareness raising or space in our stores. Through the strategic partnerships they forge, we can address the concerns that resonate with customers and employees.

Macmillan Cancer Support – no one should face cancer alone. That’s why Macmillan Cancer Support is there for everyone affected by cancer, from diagnosis through treatment and beyond. Macmillan Cancer Support is a constant source of support, giving people energy and inspiration to help them take back control of their lives. We’re proud to be the headline sponsor of the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning. Our employees take on challenges and fundraising, pulling out all the stops to inspire and involve customers too. Thanks to the boundless enthusiasm of all who participate, we’ve raised more than £19m since 2010, to fund vital Macmillan services in local communities across the UK.

Breast Cancer Now – Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s newest and largest breast cancer charity. It was created by the merger of Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Campaign. It funds critical research into the disease, and has a clear ambition – to make sure no women die from breast cancer by 2050 or sooner. We’ve worked with this charity since 2001, raising an amazing £32m through product sales and employee and customer fundraising. The funds raised have supported The Generations Study, the world’s largest and most comprehensive study into the causes of breast cancer. Because of this study, we know that more women survive breast cancer than 10 years ago and in time, it will also help to identify every woman’s personal risk of breast cancer.

The Royal British Legion – The Legion has helped serving or discharged members of the Armed Forces and their families, for more than 90 years. Every year, the UK expresses its unequivocal support for The Legion's charity work through the Poppy Appeal, which focuses on supporting all generations of the Armed Forces and their families. We’ve worked with the charity for a long time, allowing its volunteers to sell paper poppies in M&S stores or forecourts - an activity which now raises about £1m every year. Since 2012, we’ve also sold Poppy Products - primarily a range of jewellery produced in partnership with the Legion. Sales of this range have raised an incredible over £8.5m donation so far. All the funds we raise will help to support The Legion's Admiral Nurses who give support to those caring for members of the Armed Forces community affected by Dementia.

Oxfam and M&S launched Shwopping in April 2012, a new idea that made it even easier to give unwanted clothes a second life., building on a partnership from 2008. So far, since 2008, 32 million garments have been donated in Oxfam and M&S Shops across the UK and Republic of Ireland, generating millions of pounds for Oxfam to help fund its work in more than 90 countries. These funds help Oxfam save lives in emergencies, develop projects that empower people facing poverty to take charge of their lives, and campaign for change that lasts. Shwopping also reduces the number of garments sent to landfill.

We also select recipients of funds raised from our charitable Christmas cards from these existing national fundraising partners.

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 up-skilled the medical professionals on site to help improve employee health as well as workplace productivity. 
We also donate unsold clothing, food and unwanted equipment to a range of charity partners including Shelter, Oxfam, Newlife and FareShare.

Our Code of Ethics and Behaviours sets out the key policies and procedures relevant to community engagement. We support a large number of local charities through our 'In Touch with your Community' framework, with stores making donations of up to £50 to local charities, schools and hospitals. We don’t support:

  • Personal appeals on behalf of individual people, including overseas trips
  • Advertising or goodwill messages
  • Political parties
  • Third party fundraising on behalf of a charity
  • Religious bodies, except where the project provides non-denominational, non-sectarian support for the benefit of a project
  • Supplying clothing, other than in exceptional circumstances, as we already donate clothes to Newlife and Shelter
Before we make commitments to respond to a major disaster, we take into account what’s really needed on the ground, the views of our customers and employees, and the whether or not we have strong links through stores, offices or our supply chain to the disaster area.