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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 achieve the scale and pace of change we need to see in our global supply base.

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. 

We cannot deliver our objectives overnight – which is why our long-term commitment to delivering change through capacity building remains critical to our overall Food Group strategy. 

Our approach to capacity building focuses on:
Enhancing sustainability capability within our supply base
Farming for the Future
We recognise that we need to be working in partnership with our farms and growers to be their customer of choice and to develop innovative supply chain relationships that secure the high-quality raw materials we need in order to continue delivering the quality food our customers expect. 

Farming for the Future is about us helping the farms and growers in our supply base meet our M&S Select Farm Sourcing Standards and address the challenges ahead by finding opportunities to improve efficiency, environmental performance and ethical practice. This will make our business more resilient and profitable, ensuring that they can continue to deliver quality and innovation for the long-term whilst reducing their impact on the world around them. In turn, this delivers security of supply for M&S.

Launched in 2010, this programme has seen over £3.5 million invested into sustainability initiatives in the farming sector and we are committed to continuing these initiatives in the years ahead. 

Working with Suppliers

We work with our suppliers on manufacturing excellence and ensuring that sustainability and human rights are built into their processes. In foods we worked for 10 years on a comprehensive sustainability framework covering lean manufacturing, human rights & environment. As more industry initiatives develop it makes more sense for suppliers to lead their own strategies so we are in the process of reviewing our approach to monitoring suppliers and how we work with them on sustainability.

Supporting market transformation through working with industry partners and other stakeholders
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’re also using our influence with national governments and multilateral platforms to ensure workers’ rights are at the forefront of trade negotiations and that a progressive agenda is in place to maintain improvements in protection and standards for workers. For example, we were one of five retailers that sponsored the ‘Stronger Together’ initiative which aims to give UK employers the knowledge and resources they need to recognise and address exploitation in the food and agriculture industries.

Collaborative Working
Partnership has always been at the heart of how we do business. 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 the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS), and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Find out more about our approach to protecting forests.

Through our partnerships with the Marine Conservation Society and WWF we've helped to protect our sea life and beaches for the future.

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)

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 20,00050,000 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.