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During the next fifteen to twenty years the global population will continue to rise, placing unprecedented pressures on the global food system. Competition for land, water and energy will intensify, compounded by the impacts of climate change which will become increasingly apparent with greater volatility in weather resulting in erratic crop yields.

Fossil fuel markets are likely to become more volatile and unpredictable, potentially impacting the availability and cost of synthetic fertilisers as well as limiting the use of certain agricultural practices. Intensive farming practices can also pollute air and water, deplete soil and diminish biodiversity. At the same time, farming faces a number of social challenges such as 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.

We have a proud history of working with the agricultural community to provide the breadth of range and seasonal availability that our customers expect while minimising our impacts. Through our Farming for the Future programme we are working with suppliers and growers to help them address the ethical, environment and economic challenges they face in order to maintain a long-term sustainable and secure supply.

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 goal is to ensure that all our produce is produced to the highest standards of food safety and quality by farms that are operating sustainably. This commitment applies right across our business – from our fresh products to all the produce used as an ingredient in our prepared foods. These are global commitments and apply wherever we trade.

Produce is very important to M&S. We source in the region of 10,000 tonnes of fruit, vegetables and salad crops annually. We are strong supporters of the UK farming industry and only source from overseas where certain produce is either out of season or cannot be sourced from the UK (e.g. citrus, grapes, exotic fruit and some stone fruit). We also source from field-grown and glasshouse/protected crop product systems to enable us to extend seasonal availability and maintain quality. 

We have been widely recognised as a leader in supporting sustainable agriculture practices. We 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. 

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)
  • Ensure that UK labour providers used to provide temporary labour have a valid license with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority
We are committed to promoting Integrated Farm Management and support the principles of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF). We check our farmers’ and growers’ commitment to environmental management through our Supplier Scorecard and Plan A attributes initiatives (see below). 

Our suppliers are also required to meet the requirements set out in our Global Sourcing Principles. Find out more about our approach to supplier management.
M&S Select Grower Assurance Standards
With no universal standard that would fully address our requirements for produce we introduced our own programme, Field to Fork, in 2003 to cover the management of our supply chain for fruit, vegetables and salad crops. The programme originally covered traceability, minimising pesticide use, ethical trading, environmental protection, support for non-GM foods and food safety. 

In 2015, we re-launched this programme as M&S Select Grower which has been revised to focus more on food safety and to avoid duplication with other schemes such as LEAF. Our M&S Select Grower Assurance standards are set out in our Codes of Practice and cover a much wider range of product. They now now apply to suppliers of basic fresh produce, prepared produce, nuts and dried fruit, 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 sources and water use
  • 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 according to different categories – Category 0 Produce is considered the highest risk (i.e. increased likelihood of a food safety risk associated with this produce) and Category 2 the lowest (i.e. produce is always cooked prior to consumption). This also drives the frequency of audits that take place which can be between 1 and 2 years. In addition, some produce intended for further processing may only require a desktop audit.  

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 do the audit themselves, or work through a secondary supplier as long as they are competent to do so. The ultimate responsibility for compliance rests with the direct supplier though. 

There are seven sections of the audit which cover a maximum of 80 questions dependent on risk category. Of the 80 questions, 30 are categorised as Essential, 46 as Major and 4 as Minor. If a question is classed as Essential results can be recorded as Fail, Acceptable, Fully Compliant or Leading Standard. Any sites scoring Fail on an Essential question will automatically fail the M&S Select Grower Audit and cannot supply M&S until they pass. 

Successful audits are scored as Bronze, Silver or Gold Standard. The standard has been written to be deliberately stretching for primary producers (e.g. growers, packers, etc) to achieve Gold standard. 

Audits are carried out and reported using audit and reporting platforms especially developed for M&S by Muddy Boots.
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. 

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

Farming for the Future
We introduced M&S Farming for the Future in 2010 as our programme of initiatives which champions sustainability, innovation and continual improvement. It exists so that we can deliver our commitment to source our raw materials for food products from the most sustainable sources possible. 

Farming for the Future is about us helping the farmers and growers in our supply base address the challenges ahead by finding opportunities to improve efficiency, environmental performance and ethical practice. This will make their businesses 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.

We have worked with our growers to identify the key sustainability hotspots that impact the produce sector, which are:

  • Water use
  • Energy consumption
  • Pesticide & fertiliser use
  • Soil management
  • Training/people
We are working to address these challenges through our network of 15 produce Indicator Farms which have been supported in making changes to their businesses to drive sustainability. This includes independent benchmarking and consultancy support to improve areas such as technical efficiency, crop management, and innovative ways of attracting pollinators. This knowledge is then shared with our supply base of more than 15,000 farmers and the wider industry. For example, we hold grower meetings each year, to provide technical input on key issues and to showcase best practice. 

Supplier Scorecard
We’re continually innovating and setting new standards for UK food retailing and all our suppliers must commit to continuous improvement. One of the tools we use to help us to do this is our Supplier Scorecard which measures the following areas: Commercial, Technical, Service, New Product Development and Innovation, Agriculture and Sustainability. This enables us to build a consistent view of our supply base to ensure we are all working together toward our mission of continually inspiring our customers. Find out more about our approach to supplier management.

Each direct supplier assesses each of their sites at factory or packhouse level and is scored as Provisional, Bronze, Silver or Gold. We expect all direct suppliers to be working towards achieving Silver as a minimum. 

The Sustainability element of the Supplier Scorecard is designed to reflect where our direct suppliers are on their journey towards sustainability. The Sustainability Scorecard is underpinned by a self-assessment framework comprising three elements: Environmental, Ethical and Lean Manufacturing (or waste elimination) which detail the building blocks to enable change in performance. Silver sites have clear and ambitious HR and environmental plans, systems and metrics in place and process based improvement is happening. Silver and Gold are not easily obtained which is why products produced at these sites also qualify for a Plan A product attribute. 

All our direct suppliers of produce participate in the Sustainability Scorecard. Find out more about our Sustainability Scorecard. 

Biodiversity consultation services
In 2014, we entered into a 3 year partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and The Butterfly Conservation Trust (BCT) to provide biodiversity consultation services to our growers with the aim of improving habitats for birds, bees and butterflies. 

Participating growers are targeting a 10-25% increase in bee and butterfly populations in 3 years and improved habitats for farmland birds such as owls, turtle doves and skylarks. Some farms have specifically been challenged with doubling the number of turtle doves – one of the UK’s most threatened species – within 3 years. We will share our findings publicly by 2017.
Cool Farm Tool
We’re founding members of the Cool Farm Alliance, which developed the Cool Farm Tool with a number of businesses, academics and sustainability experts. 

The Cool Farm Tool is a free to use simple online tool that helps farmers and growers work out the impact of their various activities on the environment, as well as their productivity. It now covers other impacts such as biodiversity and water.
Plan A product attributes
We want every one of our products to have a Plan A attribute by 2020 – a characteristic or inherent quality or feature of a product which has a positive or lower environmental and/or social impact.

Our suppliers are required to progressively improve the sustainability credentials of our products. All should have at least one Plan A product attribute by 2020 and we have targets in place every year to increase this number. 

There would be a number of circumstances where produce would be awarded a Plan A product attribute, such as:

  • Sourced from sites which score Silver or above on our Sustainability Scorecard (see above)
  • Sourced from sites which achieve the LEAF Marque
Around 63% of produce sold (by volume) in 2015/16 had at least one Plan A product attribute. 

Our current list of attributes for food and household products can be found in the document How We Define Plan A Product Attributes, which you can download on this page. Find out more about our approach to product sustainability.
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. These investments have also supported by our Plan A Innovation fund. Find out more about our approach to delivering Plan A.

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. 

Our current priority areas for research are:

  • Water management
  • New varieties & crop/nutritional enhancement
  • Extending UK seasonal production
  • Reducing pesticide use and residue levels, with a focus on biological controls
  • Maximising environmental habitats to encourage pollinators, particularly bees, moths and butterflies
  • Reducing the reliance on labour by introducing remote or mechanical technology in field practices
We’re currently working with a number of industry partners to progress our research priorities including East Malling Research, Stockbridge Technology Centre, James Hutton Institute, the RSPB and the Butterfly Conservation Trust and Campden BRI

We are also working closely with our UK growers to extend their UK growing season in order to reduce food miles and bring further employment for seasonal workers as well as extra income to the growers. We’ve used the latest science and technology alongside the very best varieties to help deliver this. For example, we’ve supported cherry growing in Scotland, extending the UK season by 6 weeks. 

On asparagus, we now start in mid February and produce until 1 July, with a second season in November. This provides an increase of 10 weeks on a crop that traditionally is only available from mid April to mid June.

Supporting programmes which enhance the lives of people and communities

Leadership development in Africa
We’re committed to working with our suppliers to help them develop the necessary skills and competencies to meet our requirements by offering a range of training and development opportunities. 

We’ve also recently launched our Global Community Programme to benefit people in our key sourcing regions, including the UK, Asia and Africa. The programme’s key aim is to develop resilience and efficiency by empowering people in our supply chain. 

For example, the Emerging Leaders programme is providing leadership skills to workers in Kenya and South Africa who supply a wide range of produce including vegetables and flowers. The goal is to help these individuals come up with solutions that help business and the community. More than 20,000 people have taken part in the programme since May 2013. 

Water stewardship
Water scarcity and sustainable water resource management is quickly rising to the top of the agenda for many businesses, including Marks & Spencer. We are committed to working with our suppliers to improve their water efficiency and to encourage good water stewardship.

In 2011, we co-sponsored a study to explore the value of water stewardship in Africa with the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) and GIZ with support from a number of other organisation. The outcomes of the study have been used to develop the first draft of what has become International Water Stewardship Standard. Find out more about our approach to sourcing flowers and plants. 

We have also worked with WWF to produce a Good Water Stewardship Guide, which provides a number of recommendations for improving water efficiency on farms.

In 2012, we built on our water stewardship work by starting to look at future ‘water risk hotspots’ in our supply chain using the WWF Water Risk Filter. We identified the Western Cape, where we source nectarines, peaches, apricots and cherries during the UK winter, as a key risk hotspot where water scarcity and water quality could impact on future production from this region. Working with Woolworths, WWF and AWS we have been working with our Western Cape farmers to implement the International Water Stewardship Standard. Every farm has developed their own tailored water stewardship plans, based on their assessment outcome, their farm size and their financial capacities.

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, FAI Farms and Muddy Boots (who manage all our M&S Select Grower audit data). 

We also have a partnership with the RSPB and the Butterfly Conservation Trust, which is looking to achieve a 10-25% increase in bee and butterfly populations in 3 years on participating farms.