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Fresh Produce is very important to M&S; we source over 100,000 tonnes of fresh whole fruit, vegetables and salad crops each year. At M&S, we know that the best food comes from the best growers – the men and women dedicated to quality who take good care of their land and the people working on their farms. So, when it comes to choosing the farms we work with, we go to great lengths.

Increased production of Fresh Produce is vital in feeding our growing population with a healthy diet. Fruit, veg and salad is grown all over the world, supporting economies, billions of people and livelihoods. Whilst demand is increasing, resources are depleting. Competition for land, water and energy is intensifying, compounded by the impacts of climate change which is becoming increasingly apparent with greater volatility in weather resulting in erratic crop yields. Depleting biodiversity, soil degradation and water pollution linked to intensive farming practices are major threats to ability to produce food into the future. Agriculture accounts for the vast majority of M&S Foods’ GHG emissions and water use so we have a responsibility to source of Fresh Produce sustainably and promote sustainable agriculture. 

Due to the international and seasonal nature of our Fresh Produce supply chain, it faces a number of social challenges such as working conditions, exploitation of workers in certain parts of the sector and the lack of young people willing to engage in an industry which is seen as challenging with low rewards.

In the face of significant challenges, working with responsible supplier partners and growers who uphold high standards and working collaboratively with others to address some of these sustainability issues is a top priority to ensure we continue to supply our customers high quality produce in years to come, protect workers, support livelihoods and minimise environmental impact. 


Commitments and targets
We want to lead our sector in sustainable production and consumption, offering our customers the good value, high quality products and services they expect from M&S, while respecting planetary boundaries and the need for social equity.

Our strategy at M&S Food is to protect the magic, while modernising the areas that we know we need to focus on. At its core, protecting that magic is about protecting the quality and provenance of our food, and the strength and longevity of our supplier partnerships. We will always maintain our commitment to having leading standards and ensure that we work with our farming partners to work with, not against, nature. We source British produce wherever we can, however sourcing overseas is important to providing our customers choice but also supporting communities all over the world. 

Each piece of fresh whole fruit, vegetables and salad crops comes from farms that meet our produce standards, as part of our Select Farms brand. Every M&S Select Farm, we know and trust to meet our high standards for food safety and quality, environmental protection and human rights

Farming can have a big impact on the environment and we want to make sure it’s a positive one. So, we’re asking all our growers to achieve a leading industry recognised farm environmental standard – such as the LEAF Marque. These standards recognise food that has been grown with care for the environment. Around 60% of our growers have already done so – so we are well on the way. We are also actively working to support improvement of environmental practices on the ground. For example In South Africa, we’ve partnered with WWF and other retailers to help farmers reduce the impacts of flooding and drought on fruit crops by improving water stewardship. In the UK, we are working with Soil Capital and Forum for the Future on enabling regenerative agriculture practices. We have been widely recognised as a leader in supporting sustainable agriculture practices and have invested in research and innovation for many years in order to develop and improve crop breeding and agronomic practices that benefit farmers and the environment

From a human rights perspective our ambition is to accelerate change by leading with others. We’re committed to working collaboratively with suppliers, civil society, governments and other businesses on human rights to inform our approach, participating in coalitions such as the Spanish Ethical Trade Forum and the FLA, sharing our experiences and helping to address root causes and influence systemic positive change. 

Approach
Our dedicated team of agricultural specialists work with our suppliers and our Select Farms to keep improving. We check how our farmers are doing through regular visits and audits and encourage and support them to measure and improve social and environmental outcomes. Our approach to sourcing the most responsible produce focuses on:


Establishing and maintaining clear minimum sourcing standards

Minimum sourcing principles
Our Technical Terms of Trade set our minimum technical expectations for suppliers to meet. It also sets out our position on a number of areas.

Nothing is more important to us than food safety. We believe our product standards are industry-leading. We require all products to be made by suppliers who are technically competent within their specific area and who operate well-managed hygienic locations applying Good Manufacturing Practice, a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach and due diligence to ensure safety, legality, integrity and consistent quality. Find out more about our approach to product standards.

The following minimum standards exist across our entire produce supply chain:

  • We require complete supply chain traceability
  • As a minimum all our farms and growers must be independently assured to Global GAP or UK Red Tractor standards
  • Produce must be sourced in accordance with our Non-GM Foods Policy and Non-GM Foods Code of Practice – only non-GM ingredients and derivatives can be used
  • Use of pesticides must be actively reduced and be in accordance with our Pesticides Policy (which has been independently reviewed by Pesticide Action Network UK) – detectible residues must be minimised
  • Comply with our M&S Select Grower Standards (see below)
M&S Select Grower Assurance Standards
Our M&S Select Farms Assurance standards are set out in our Codes of Practice and cover a wide range of product. They now now apply to suppliers of basic fresh produce, prepared produce, frozen produce, and produce in chilled/short shelf-life products.

The fundamental approach is to ensure that the produce entering our supply chain is safe, grown in a way that ensures it is free from contamination and is harvested, packed and processed to ensure that no contaminants are introduced. It is based on a risk assessment and a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach which considers the following:

  • Physical including foreign body management
  • Chemical
  • Allergen (particularly nuts and peanuts)
  • Microbiological
The following elements are also covered:

  • Manure use
  • Chemical use
  • Water source/quality and water use/application methods
  • Composting protocols
  • Planting and drilling guidelines
  • Harvesting protocols
  • Equipment hygiene
  • Worker hygiene
  • Allergen control
Different crops present different food safety risks so we classify fresh produce  as either high risk or low risk based on a risk assessment. The risk assessment takes into consideration historical food safety issues, the nature of the product and current agronomic practices, to determine the level of risk. Product that is classified as a high risk will have a Select Farm audit conducted annually. They must also be Global Gap or Red Tractor certified. Those crops identified as low risk must as minimum be Global Gap or Red Tractor certified.  

Every stage of the produce supply chain supplying into M&S needs to be audited (e.g. grower and packers). In principle, each layer in the supply chain is required to audit the layer below. Our direct suppliers can carry out the Select Farm audit, providing they have completed and passed the Select Farm training programme. The ultimate responsibility for compliance rests with the direct supplier though. 

Audits are carried out and reported using audit and reporting platforms especially developed for M&S by Muddy Boots.
M&S Select Farms Labour standards
Our direct suppliers are responsible for ensuring every site supplying M&S, including growers and packers, meet our minimum labour standards which are set out in our Global Sourcing Principles

The international and seasonal nature of our produce supply chain means that there is a high level of ethical trade risk around fresh produce. We require our suppliers to actively assess and manage this risk on a continual basis on our behalf. We have developed a Code of Practice which sets out our Basic Produce Ethical Requirements to support them in this process. 

All sites supplying M&S must be registered on the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) prior to any supply starting, have linked to M&S Foods, and completed all sections of the Sedex self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ) in full. 

We expect our suppliers to engage our workers in line with legal requirements. They are required to check that all workers have a right to work in a particular country and that they are of legal working age. This applies even if workers are supplied through labour providers, agents or gangmasters. For example, in the UK suppliers are also expected to ensure that labour providers have a valid license from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority

The requirement and frequency of ethical audits is based on risk. Sites may be audited every year or up to every 4 years. Risk is driven by a range of criteria such as management systems, length of relationship, country, use of migrant or seasonal labour and previous ethical history. 



Fairtrade

With a partnership of over 25 years M&S was one of Fairtrade’s earliest supporters.

Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. We have a wide range of Fairtrade products in our foodhalls, including bananas, all of which help small-scale farmers and growers by paying them a Fairtrade price and a premium that protects against volatile market forces.

M&S Select Farms Environmental Standards

Our suppliers have worked to embed standards and features into their products which deliver positive or lower environmental and/ or social impact. 60% of our whole Fresh Produce range includes products accredited to standards such as:

  • LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming)
  • Rainforest Alliance 
  • Organic 
  • Fairtrade
Contingency supply
Whilst we would prefer all our supply chains to be fully audited there are situations which arise where contingencies are required. 

Contingency situations might include availability of certain crops, trials of new crop innovations, or where a crop is unique to a country which is outside of our standard supply.

In these instances, we require our supplier or grower to submit certain evidence in support of any application for contingency supply. For example, the grower is Global GAP certified, is registered on Sedex and has completed the SAQs, is used by other retailers, has pesticide residue analysis, has risk assessments and HACCP plans available, and so on. 

We have strict protocols in place to manage this eventuality and to prevent a contingency grower being used for more than one season. If a grower does continue to supply into another season then they become a permanent grower and go through our full assurance process.

Supporting programmes that further our understanding and build capacity within our supply chain

Research and innovation
We have invested in R&D and innovation for many years in order to improve crop breeding and agronomic practices that benefit farmers and the environment.

Our approach is to work collaboratively with our suppliers, farmers and growers to establish the crop or industry need and then align with the most relevant industry research partner.

We work closely with centres of excellence, such as universities, agricultural colleges and research institutes, to ensure our products and processes remain up to date and industry leading. 

Supporting programmes which enhance the lives of people and 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.

Water stewardship

We’ve made a good start on our water stewardship journey through our partnership with WWF and our close relationship with our suppliers.   

Our first step was to get a better understanding of our water use – of which more than 90% is within our supply chains – and to identify our ‘at risk’ areas using the WWF Water Risk Filter and mapping that against our own supply and business continuity risks.  

We have learnt some good lessons through our previous water stewardship programmes within the Western Cape, South Africa, a key agricultural area for stone fruit, apples, pears, citrus and grapes, where there is a highly variable climate which makes both droughts and flooding common risks to consider. In a collaborative partnership with WWF, Woolworths, and a number of other water stewardship organisations, we have worked with farmers in the area to implement stewardship thinking, work with community groups on urban water quality issues and clear foreign plants which use a lot of water. We have been a part of collective action projects in Kenya and Peru too, in important sourcing locations for fresh produce. You can read about some of our key learnings from our Water Stewardship journey here. 

We also know it’s important to collaborate with other retailers and suppliers, and work in close partnership to understand the complex arrangement and demands of users within that water catchment area. We are currently part of the WRAP Courtauld Commitment 2025 Water Ambition alongside other UK retailers, supporting projects in the UK, Spain, and South Africa.  For example, in Doñana, where 70% of Spanish strawberries are grown, berry production is putting a great strain on water resources and a detrimental impact on the protected wetlands. This simply isn’t something we can fix alone, so we have been working in collaboration with over 80 other brands and WWF through the SAI Platform to help improve water management in the region.   

Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business. 

To develop our approach to sourcing produce to a high standard of food safety, quality and more sustainably we’ve worked with many industry experts and scientists. We continue to work with these leading organisations (e.g. LEAF, Global GAP, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN), Red Tractor Assurance) to further research and progress our standards. 

Operationally, we’re supported by our suppliers, the University of Leeds and Muddy Boots (who manage all our M&S Select Grower audit data).