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Human rights are fundamental principles which allow an individual to lead a dignified and independent life, free from abuse and violations. These basic rights include freedom of speech, privacy, health, life, liberty and security, as well as access to clean water and sanitation and an adequate standard of living. We live in an increasingly globalised society and many communities have experienced both positive and negative human rights impacts. In today’s complex and uncertain world the upholding of these rights remain as important as ever. Whilst individual states have a duty to protect human rights they may not be willing or able to do so. Some human rights violations, such as modern slavery, are also serious crimes where some of the most vulnerable people in society are exploited for criminal gain. These are issues which by their very nature are often hidden and the root causes extremely complex. 

In an increasingly interconnected world with high expectations around transparency, there is closer scrutiny of corporate impact on people and communities. It is widely acknowledged that businesses can affect individuals’ human rights and have a responsibility to respect them within their sphere of influence. This is particularly important where a state fails in its duty to protect. 

At M&S, we have a long history of respecting human rights in the UK and standing up for those values internationally. As both employer and buyer, our business was founded on the understanding that we are only as strong as the communities in which we trade. We strive to be a fair partner – paying a fair price to suppliers, supporting local communities and ensuring good working conditions for everyone working in our business and supply chains. This principle is still at the heart of how we do business today. That said, the evolving nature of the business and human rights agenda means we still have much to do and are still learning on this complex topic. 

Commitments and targets
We're committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights and the principles and guidance in the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as a basis for dialogue and action. We also support the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Our Human Rights Policy is informed by the International Bill of Human Rights (as enacted in national laws around the world), the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the UN Human Right to Water and Sanitation and the Children's Rights and Business Principles. It was also informed by the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles and the UN Global Compact, to which we are signatories. We recognise that while states have a duty to protect human rights, companies have a responsibility to respect human rights. This means acting with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and addressing the adverse impacts of our global operations.

We aim to enhance the lives of our people and communities. We are one of the UK’s leading retailers employing nearly 70,000 people directly and are supported by hundreds of thousands more in our franchised operations and supply chain. We serve 31 million customers, selling own brand food, clothing and home products in 1,519 M&S operated and franchised stores across the UK and 62 international markets. Our product supply chains are extensive and global, numbering hundreds of thousands of suppliers located across 70 countries. To support our operations, we also procure goods and services worth several billion pounds every year – from equipment for new stores to cleaning, security and catering services. 

As a business, M&S respects and supports the dignity, wellbeing and human rights of our employees, the workers in our direct and extended supply chain, the communities in which we trade and those affected by our operations. Find out more about our approach to Our People.

Our commitment to human rights is reinforced in our Human Rights Policy and our Code of Conduct where we confirm that we will not tolerate, nor will we condone, abuse of human rights within any part of our business or supply chains, and we will take seriously any allegations that human rights are not properly respected. We are committed to building knowledge and awareness of our employees and suppliers on human rights encouraging them to speak up, without fear of retribution, about any concerns they may have. 

First introduced in 1998, our Global Sourcing Principles set out our minimum global supplier ethical and environmental standards. These standards are contractual and apply across our entire business. Find out more about our business wide approach to responsible sourcing.

As a business we also support the goals of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act and have a zero tolerance approach to forced labour of any kind within our operations and supply chain. Find out more about the steps we are taking to tackle modern slavery in our own business and supply chains.

For many years we’ve recognised that the traditional approach to ethical auditing is limited in its ability to identify, prevent, account for and remediate human rights impacts across our supply base. It is for this reason that we’ve taken steps to go beyond compliance in order to help tackle the systemic human rights issues within our business. We cannot be complacent though and over the last few years we have been reviewing our approach to respecting human rights. 

We’re in the process of evolving our approach to one that maintains the best of what we’ve achieved so far but builds on it to better account for our current operating context and changing business landscape. In particular, we recognise the need for strengthening the upholding of human rights not just in our supply chains but throughout our entire business operations, as part of this our CEO Steve Rowe has taken on a leadership role as co-sponsor of the Consumer Goods Forum's Coalition on Forced Labour and Human Rights.

We’ve also increased our transparency on human rights. In 2016, we published for the first time an interactive map featuring the locations of our active clothing and food manufacturers and in 2017 we extended it to cover our homeware and beauty product manufacturers. We also began to disclose additional information on our approach to auditing and audit results within our Food and Household supply chain and Clothing and Home supply chain.

We published our first stand alone Human Rights Reports in 2016 and 2017 and subsequent years have reported our annual progress through our Plan A report, on our corporate website and in our Modern Slavery Statement. As of 2022, we will be reporting progress through our ESG report. 

Our approach to respecting and promoting human rights focuses on:

Understanding the potential human rights impacts of our activities and business relationships
Identifying human rights risks and salient issues

We operate in a diverse range of geographies, consumer cultures and regulatory environments. Against this backdrop, it is important to understand where our operations and sourcing impact adversely on individuals and to prioritise our efforts in these areas. 

Working with experts, we map our entire business operations and supply chains in order to scope and assess our human rights risks and impacts according to industry/sector and geography. This forms a critical part of our overall approach to due diligence.

First, we build on years of knowledge and expertise in human resource management and in managing ethical trade in our food, clothing and home supply chains to identify human rights issues. This has enabled us to classify each business area as either high, medium or low risk and to identify geographies which pose the highest risk. 

We consider the severity and likelihood of these issues and our sphere of influence. A number of factors are considered including geography, industry/sector, national law, vulnerability of particular groups and known issues and risks. We also draw on a range of sources such as audit data, stakeholder views (e.g. Oxfam, Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), Verité, Food Network for Ethical Trade (FNET)) and desktop research such as analysis of external datasets like human rights indices (e.g. UN Gender Inequality Index, ITUC Global Rights Index and World Bank’s World Governance Indicators). 

Through our risk and impact assessment we carefully consider and define key issues where we believe we can have the biggest impact on people affected by the business. Our conclusions are based on the degree of knowledge, activity and engagement of the business to date:

  1. Discrimination
  2. Forced Labour
  3. Freedom of Association
  4. Health and Safety
  5. Living Wages
  6. Water and Sanitation
  7. Working Hours
Focusing on our salient human rights issues provides a framework for us to monitor our progress against internationally recognised human rights standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

We’re developing specific actions for each of these priority areas. For example, in some areas we’ve developed issue-specific policies and tools to tackle certain issues (e.g. health and safety) and with others which are more systemic in nature we’re participating in multi-stakeholder initiatives (e.g. forced labour and living wages). Understanding our sphere of influence and the role we can play is key to developing our plans.

We are continually improving our approach to raising awareness of human rights within our business and supply chains.

We recognise there is more to do to better understand human rights risk and measure impact to ensure our due diligence and action is really addressing the root cause of salient issues.

The human rights agenda and our business and extended supply chain is not static but continually evolving, so we will regularly review our human rights risk and impact and report progress on an annual basis.

Land rights

We are committed to respecting the ownership and use of land and natural resources.

Globally 1.1 billion people have insecure title to the land that they live on and farm. Land disputes have become one of the leading causes of local conflict around the world when people find out that their land has been allocated or sold without their consent. We see land rights as a growing salient issue. Whilst we have no evidence it is occurring in our extended supply chain we know it is an issue for certain commodity crops.

Our Global Sourcing Principles directly reference land rights, in particular our expectation that all suppliers adhere to the practice of Free and Prior Informed Consent for land rights. 

We see we can most affect change on this issue through collaboration on key commodities (palm, soy and cocoa) and via our support for standards and certifications. We will continue to champion human rights through these collaborations.


According to the UNFAO, over 85% of the 570 million farms in the world are family owned and account for at least 56% of global agricultural production. Family farming plays an important role in the global food system and is the main form of agriculture in both developing and developed countries.

Within our extended supply chain raw materials for our products are sourced from hundreds of thousands of smallholders (those farms that grow crops on a small plot of land typically less than 2 hectares). 

Smallholders live in a system which is consistently under threat from issues such as price volatility, impacts of climate change and market power dynamics. One of the key challenges is ensuring that producers are able to reach markets and when issues do arise that individuals are protected by others. 

This is why we are working with our suppliers to ensure that they are aware of more vulnerable groups like smallholders and have adequate arrangements in place to ensure their rights are upheld. We’ve reinforced this requirement in our Global Sourcing Principles. Critically, we also recognise that the fairness of terms of trade with smallholders have significant impacts on rural communities around the world as well as being a key driver of stability in our supply chain. It is important that our terms of trade are inclusive for smallholders, risks are fairly shared and prices are paid to ensure fair and sustainable production. 

We are supporting a number of interventions that help smallholders and their communities improve agricultural practices, business acumen and life skills through worker programmes and through supporting organisations such as Fairtrade and Better Cotton Initiative

Right to water

Water scarcity and sustainable water resource management are quickly rising to the top of the agenda for many businesses.

We respect the right to safe, clean water and sanitation, we strive to use water efficiently and to encourage responsible water stewardship in catchments where we and our extended supply chain operate.

Alongside the work we are doing within our supply chain, we are committed to ensuring that the principles of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation is integrated into our own business operations. We are clear that we will not take any action or perform any operations that undermine governmental obligations to its citizens through the Human Right to Water and where a country has not committed to the policy, we will act within the principle, as defined by the UN.

Our Global Sourcing Principles make it clear that within a work setting all businesses must ensure workers are provided with access to suitable water, hygiene and sanitation facilities. They must also ensure that their operations do not negatively affect access to safe water for the community.

Find out more about our approach to protecting natural resources

Embedding human rights in our business practices
Promoting human rights in our business

Human rights issues could arise in any part of our business. As a responsible business and employer upholding human rights is fundamental to who we are and what we stand for. We are currently focused on engaging all aspects of our business to strengthen the integration of human rights considerations into our policy and governance framework. This includes the rollout of employee engagement and training initiatives across our business areas and geographies. 

For example, during 2019/2020 we created a phone app called “Everyone’s Business” empowering all buying team members to contribute to responsible sourcing. It provides guidance on responsible sourcing principles, country specific human rights information and advice on how to spot potential issues at suppliers. We have also integrated Modern Slavery training into our buyers Academy. 

Our people

We want people to enjoy coming to work and for the workplace to be free from discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Employing people in different countries means responding to different cultural and social norms and different employment law and commercial considerations. However, regardless of where they work or the job they do, we want everyone employed by Marks & Spencer to be treated with dignity and respect and have pride in our brand. 

Our People Principles underpin our vision of being a responsible employer and establish minimum standards with respect to recruitment, reward, employee relations, employment engagement and how employees can communicate their views. These apply across all our operations for our direct employees and Joint Venture partnerships. Similar standards are in place in our franchised operations. Our conditions of employment are explained during the recruitment process, in individual contracts and during induction. Find out more about our People Principles

Our Code of Conduct is integral to our internal control and risk management systems. All employees and direct suppliers are made aware of the Code. Each year we also require all senior managers and above to confirm their compliance with the Code. We expect and encourage employees and direct suppliers to report any breach of the Code. 

All employees can access M&S policies via My HR system, as well as via their line manager or HR Business Partner. We have a number of mechanisms in place to monitor adherence to our policies, such as via our regular 'Your Voice - Talk Straight' surveys, worker representatives and internal employee grievance procedures.

Our franchises

We work with a number of franchise partners to help extend the reach of the M&S brand to more customers around the world. This enables us to benefit from our partners local market expertise and gain better access to prime retail locations. 

Before entering into any new franchise partnership venture we undertake full due diligence. As part of this process we give due consideration to human rights risks at a country and organisational level and commission specialist external audits where necessary. 

Our customers

As a retailer, serving customers is at the heart of everything we do. We and our partners are fully committed to respecting the human rights of our customers. This includes our approach to handling customer’s data, protecting their privacy, marketing to them responsibly and ensuring they can shop with us safely. Customers are increasingly aware of their personal impact on the world and businesses must work hard to build and maintain their trust. Any customer with human rights concerns regarding the human rights impacts of M&S activities can raise them through Customer Services channels in store and online.  During 2017/18, we developed a set of Responsible Marketing Principles to provide greater reassurance on protecting customer privacy and responsible advertising, which we continue to use. 

Our governance

We’ve established clear roles and responsibilities for respecting human rights at all levels of our business. 

Our CEO, Steve Rowe, approved the M&S Human Rights Policy and oversees our work in this area. He is supported by the M&S Board and Executive Committee who are responsible for ensuring that every part of our business is clear about the responsibility to respect human rights. Human rights is a standing agenda item on scheduled Executive Committee meetings which is chaired by our CEO. The Executive Committee reviewed and approved the Modern Slavery Statement 2020/21 in May 2021.

Our Group Secretary is responsible for providing a central source of guidance and advice on policy, procedure and ethics with support from a small team of legal and corporate governance specialists.

Our Board is accountable for carrying out a robust assessment of the principal risks facing our business. On behalf of the Board, the Audit Committee reviews the effectiveness of the Group risk management process. Each business area is responsible for formally identifying and assessing their risks half-yearly, measuring them against a defined set of criteria, and considering likelihood of occurrence and potential impact. The Group Risk function facilitates a similar exercise with Executive Board members, combining information to provide a consolidated view. Salient human rights issues (as with other sustainability risks) feature within Plan A, food integrity and ethical sourcing risks associated with our Clothing and Home division. During 2019/20, the Audit Committee received updates on the Clothing & Home Sourcing Offices operating framework and the impacts of COVID-19 within the Clothing & Home supply chain.

The Directors of each business unit (Foods, Clothing & Home, International, M&S Services and Retail & Property) are responsible for activity in their respective areas and for their employee, supplier and customer relationships. In particular, each area is responsible for developing dedicated plans to implement policies of relevance to human rights (e.g. Code of Conduct) and manage salient human rights issues (outlined above). This includes identifying geographical priorities for each salient issue, monitoring implementation plans and implementing corrective action plans if necessary. 

The Directors are supported by a Human Rights Practitioner comprised of key staff from across the business (Food, Clothing & Home, Retail & Property, International and M&S Services) who have day-to-day responsibility for human rights issues in our business and supply chains.
Promoting human rights in our supply chains

We have a responsibility to ensure workers’ rights are at the forefront of our decision-making and minimum standards are upheld in order to respect human rights, promote decent working conditions and improve sustainability across our supply base. This applies regardless of whether we are sourcing items to sell or use within our business.

Minimum standards

Our Global Sourcing Principles are contractual and set out what is required and expected of our direct suppliers – those with whom we have a direct contract for goods and services – to ensure their workplaces and ways of working meet acceptable standards. They are based on a commitment to respecting all ILO core labour standards. They were updated in 2014 to reinforce our expectations on the environment, cover gender equality and a wider range of community human rights issues such as land rights and smallholders. We made further revisions in 2016 and 2018 to incorporate the requirements of the UK Modern Slavery Act, our revised approach to human rights and commitments to transparency.

It is the supplier’s responsibility to achieve and maintain these standards and to enforce them within those parts of their supply chains involved in producing or supplying M&S products (e.g. raw materials suppliers, processing facilities, factories, warehouses). As our business relationship develops we expect our suppliers to raise their standards and continually improve working conditions and their environmental performance. 

We expect suppliers of non-M&S branded Clothing & Home goods and our franchise partners to note our requirements and have commensurate arrangements in place. 

All the the relevant business units are responsible for ensuring that appropriate processes and controls are in place to implement our Global Sourcing Principles. Each business unit has developed their own sourcing strategies and standards to help them in this task. 

A number of supporting policies, procedures, guidance and tools are available to help our suppliers meet our requirements and improve their working conditions. These include specific policies on child labour, working hours, equal opportunity, forced labour, harassment and abuse to name a few. We have clear positions covering situations relating to factory closure, reorganisation or restructuring. In situations where local laws or their implementation do not provide for adequate protection of human rights we look for ways our own operations, partners and suppliers can work around this.

We expect suppliers to demonstrate respect for human rights of individuals belonging to specific groups or populations (such as women, smallholders, etc) who might be at heightened risk of becoming vulnerable or marginalised if adversely impacted by their activities. 

Monitoring and assurance

We are determined to do everything we can to bring fair sourcing principles to all stages of our supply chain. However, it is simply not possible for us to monitor or control the working conditions of each individual who contributes to what ultimately becomes a product we sell or use. We will not under any circumstances accept production from non-approved sites or goods supplied from sites that differ from our contracts system for each specific contract. 

We use the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) system to monitor our suppliers’ progress towards our requirements. In terms of goods for resale, all new suppliers and factories/sites are subject to due diligence checks in the form of semi-announced ethical audits conducted by or on behalf of M&S. Such audits are also conducted for existing suppliers and factories/sites at a frequency determined by risk. These audits assess compliance with the M&S Global Sourcing Principles. If non-compliances are identified we actively track and follow up on our suppliers’ progress towards what they’ve agreed to address in their Corrective Action Plans. 

Engaging with rights holders and other stakeholders

For M&S to be a successful and responsible business we depend on the support of stakeholders in the communities where we trade and where we and our supply chain operate. We are committed to engage with potentially and actually affected stakeholders on human rights, including in local communities where relevant. It’s hard for a company to know and show that it is respecting human rights if it is blind to how others perceive its actions and their effects. 

It is critical that we identify and regularly interact with affected rights holders and expert stakeholders. These include our employees, customers, supply chain workers, contractors, artisanal and smallholder producers and local community and civil society groups. Affected individuals and groups may in turn be organised and represented by particular organisations or individuals (e.g. a community elder, trade union or local association) or have no formal structure. We employ a variety of techniques to identify these stakeholders which range from direct engagement and interaction, desktop research, third party assessments through to leveraging existing country knowledge and contacts. This includes identifying stakeholders based on their specific skills and expertise, such as civil society organisations, government agencies, and academic institutions. We interact with these stakeholders through ongoing dialogue on our identified salient human rights issues and consult with them in specific instances where possible human rights impacts have been highlighted through audit alerts, confidential reporting concerns or media publications.  

We have a map of advocates for affected stakeholders we engage with by country and where we have run in depth programmes for local work/producer and community groups around factories and farms. We also map where our business and supply chain operations are likely to negatively impact on rights holders. For example, when building new stores we adopt the Considerate Constructors Scheme to ensure that we minimise any impacts (e.g. nuisance, health and safety, etc) of our work on others.

To be successful our approach to stakeholder identification and engagement needs to be a continual improvement process which fosters an open and candid discussion without fear of retribution. For instance, as our human rights programme evolves we plan to revisit how well our map of advocates represent our most vulnerable groups. 

We group human rights stakeholders into three groups:

Directly affected stakeholders

Includes employees, customers, supply chain workers and their representatives through trade unions and community leaders 

We interact directly with our people in many ways, including via line managers, our Business Involvement Groups, our European Works Council, regular 'Talk Straight' staff surveys, and confidential hotline.

We engage with customers via formal customer focus groups, customer services, our store staff and direct contact through our Chairman's Office.

In our extended supply chain, all ethical assessments include direct workers interviews and we are expanding the use of mobile technology to survey workers directly. However, our experience is that the most meaningful understanding of salient issues comes from more in-depth interactions with affected rights holders.

Advocates for affected stakeholders

Representing informed proxies, such as NGOs and academics 

We recognise that sometimes our ability to interact directly with stakeholders is limited, not least as rights holders may be wary of expressing their views directly with us. Intermediaries acting on the behalf of others is crucial to bridging this gap. 

For example, several NGO reports highlighting that ‘Sumangali’ (exploitation of young women in the mills and textile industry, a form of bonded labour) was still in practice led to us becoming a founding member of the ETI Tamil Nadu Multi-Stakeholder Working Group. This group aims to contribute to the elimination of exploitative practices in Southern India by promoting ethical recruitment of young women into the spinning sector, textile and garment industries. 

Human rights experts

Comprising broad experts or experts on a particular salient issue 

In any given year we meet with dozens of expert organisations including civil society, academia, and specialist consultants. 

Oxfam has been an indispensable stakeholder to M&S for a number of years. For example, in 2012, Oxfam shared with us the findings of their poverty footprint study in the horticultural sector in Kenya. This showed that despite a decade long focus on ethical trade, the communities where many workers lived were facing significant of challenges including sanitation, security and education. This ultimately led to us entering into a partnership with Emerging Leaders to implement their leadership training programme at scale within our supply base.
In addition to these three specific groups we have a wider programme of stakeholder engagement. Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business. The size and complexity of most sustainability and societal issues mean they cannot be addressed by any one solution or any one organisation. It’s not enough for a few businesses to lead. We need concerted, collaborative effort involving businesses, investors, governments, NGOs and consumers to tackle the world’s most pressing issues by sparking fundamental shifts in mind-set and behaviour.

We are collaborating through a number of initiatives to inform our approach to human rights, share our experiences and help address root causes and influence systemic positive change (see below). 

One of our most important assets in human rights due diligence is our local expert teams, who regularly meet with workers, local NGOs, trade unions, government offices and academics. Because they are based in country they have real insight into local issues and are vital in helping M&S join the dots. Find out more about our approach to engaging with stakeholders.
Communicating how our human rights impacts are addressed
We always do everything we can to be open and transparent – both in the information we make public and in the way we share it. This includes paying particular attention to those affected stakeholders who have raised specific issues or concerns with us. We do this through multiple channels including our website, individual stakeholder meetings and correspondence, collaborative engagement with civil society groups and one-to-one worker interviews and meetings. 

Within our grievance framework, our primary concern will always be to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of any person that has raised an issue or concern with us. We will always strive to keep all parties informed of the steps that are being taken to investigate the concerns and the results of the process. Where issues have been raised by the media, trade unions or labour and human rights advocacy groups we will always look to publish the details of our response and resolution once agreed to the satisfaction of all parties as part of our commitment to transparency. In some circumstances, our ability to be transparent may be restricted as a result of legally binding duties of confidentiality.

These are distinct from issues we identify through other processes which include our own due diligence or complaints that we may receive directly from employees in our business or workers in our supply chain. The specific details of such complaints or the parties to the complaint are not disclosed, unless both the complainant and the subject of the complaint have agreed to this being made public, or where the complaint has already been made public by advocacy groups or through other channels such as the media. Find out more about our approach to responding to stakeholder concerns on human rights.
Helping suppliers and partners improve their performance in respecting human rights
Training and engagement
Supply chain training
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. 

Our training programmes cover a range of topics and are delivered through a variety of formats including e-learning, presentations, workshops, global supplier conferences, practical assessments, webinars or case studies. 

We have designed training programmes to educate suppliers about local laws, their rights at work, and our Global Sourcing Principles

For example, in 2012 we developed and implemented a Fire Safety programme in our 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. Over 130,000 workers have received training through the M&S Fire Safety training programme and by December 2015, all of our garment factories had a worker fire champion in place.

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.

Supplier Conferences

Second International Human Rights Conference, Istanbul

In September 2018, we delivered our 2nd International Human Rights conference in Turkey. The conference aimed to provide information and practical tools for suppliers on addressing the complexities of human rights within business, as well as sharing experiences and insights from the wider business community. The agenda included speakers from Coca-Cola, The British Embassy, United Work and Nestle, covering topics from Syrian Refugees to supply chain mapping. 172 people attended and for the majority (76%) it was the first conference they had attended specifically dedicated to human rights.  

First International Human Rights Conference, Delhi

At the end of January 2018, we held our first ever international human rights conference in Delhi, India with over 250 attendees from our retail partners, M&S international retail and sourcing offices as well as logistics, IT, facilities, Food and Clothing & Home suppliers. The conference was also attended by many of our collaborators too including Coca-Cola, BT, Ethical Trading Initiative, Freedom Fund, Ethical Tea Partnership, Traidcraft, Fairtrade, Unseen and representatives from Indian, UK and Australian Governments. 

The conference aimed to provide information and practical tools for suppliers on addressing the complexities of human rights within business, as well as sharing experiences and insights from the wider business community. We also launched our M&S Forced Labour Toolkit for International Suppliers and Partners at the conference.

Human Rights and Modern Slavery Conference

In February 2017, we brought together 150 suppliers from our UK Property, Logistics, IT, Retail and Clothing and Home supply base for our flagship Modern Slavery and Human Rights Conference, held in London. This event set out to help improve our suppliers understanding and management of modern slavery risk in their operations and wider supply chain. External speakers included Unseen, Stronger Together, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

We reminded suppliers that we require them to:

  • Understand and work to meet our Global Sourcing Principles
  • Comply with the Modern Slavery Act Reporting requirements if they are in scope
  • Continue to engage with M&S on human rights and modern slavery
We also launched a new Modern Slavery Toolkit for Suppliers and Partners at the event.

We continue to hold smaller supplier workshops throughout our supply chains to reinforce our policies and procedures and ensure they are maintaining processes to manage modern slavery risks.  

Investigating and remedying breaches of our standards
M&S grievance channels and mechanisms
We want to have in place effective grievance mechanisms to remedy adverse human rights impacts but we recognise this is challenging and an area we have much to learn. 

We are committed to building a culture of trust and transparency within our business and supply chains. We are committed to work with suppliers and business partners to remedy adverse human rights impacts. We will never obstruct access to remedy and are open to collaborating in initiatives that provide access to remedy. We have never brought a retaliatory legal claim or dismissed any employees or any workers on the basis that they have brought or tried to bring a case against us involving any allegation of human rights impacts / abuses or against the lawyers representing them and have never brought a case for deformation or similar actions against claimants or their lawyers. 

M&S has a strict anti-retaliation policy. We encourage our employees and individuals within our supply chains and wider communities (including those that represent them) to report any wrongdoing without fear of retribution. This includes where human rights may be violated or where there is a breach of our labour standards. Our central concern will always be to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of any person who has lodged, in good faith, a grievance with M&S and have introduced measures to prevent retaliation. For example, complaints can be raised anonymously if required. Regardless, all information is treated with sensitivity and in strict confidence. As a rule, no information is disclosed outside the immediate team considering the issue or complaint and those who are party to the issue or complaint. Under no circumstances will the identities of individuals be disclosed in such as a way that could open them up to intimidation or victimisation. If it is necessary for anyone investigating the issue or complaint to know the identity of individuals it will first be discussed with the complainant or complainant’s representative first. 

Workers or their representatives are best placed to raise issues locally and potentially solve a dispute as it is occurring. Localised solutions tend to be most attuned to local culture, the concerns of those whose rights are impacted, and opportunities for sustainable solutions. External investigations of complaints by brand companies or multi-stakeholder initiatives are an important and necessary back-stop to these processes and should ideally be used after all local mechanisms have been tried first.

Often the issues that are raised are complex. This means it takes time to investigate and check facts. In some cases there is not a clear-cut right or wrong answer. In others, issues may not be able to be addressed by M&S alone and require wider engagement with governments, industry and other stakeholders.

We have both internal and external channels available for any party wishing to raise a concern, anonymously if required. We use a generic framework depending on the nature of the issue and local circumstances:

  • Initial assessment of the complaint
  • Internal investigation which may involve an independent third party
  • Consultation and mediation with all parties
  • If no agreement is forthcoming within a reasonable timeframe we reserve the right to decide on the outcome
If a person or organisation feels they have been the subject of retaliation we will investigate and take action to remedy the situation. 

M&S has several grievance channels and mechanisms in place and our goal is to leverage existing processes while ensuring that there are no gaps between what exists and what is required by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the law. Our current grievance channels and mechanisms are as follows:

Employees and direct suppliers 

Employee grievances

All M&S employees who have a personal grievance (e.g. a complaint relating to their conditions of employment, how they have been treated at work and / or their personal circumstances) can raise them in line with the M&S Employee Grievance Policy in the UK which meets the requirements of the ACAS Statutory Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures or equivalent local arrangements if based outside of the UK.  

Employee grievances may include concerns around terms and conditions of employment, health and safety, work relations, bulling and harassment, new working practices, working environment, organisational changes and discrimination. Several of which may also be considered human rights breaches if significant enough. Staff independent of the grievance will investigate and seek to resolve the grievance and ensure all issues and concerns are also assessed on their possible human rights impacts


Additionally, we have obligations under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Anyone concerned about any form of malpractice, improper action or wrongdoing by M&S, its employees, contractors/suppliers or franchises is strongly encouraged to report the matter. We have a Whistleblowing Procedure to facilitate the reporting of such concerns and applies globally. The process applies to all employees, contractors/agency workers working on our premises, consultants, suppliers and other relevant stakeholders.

In most instances, we hope that individuals would feel they can raise concerns with their line manager. However, if they feel that this is not possible they can be raised via an independent and external facility. This facility is managed by Safecall and reporting can be done by phone (if you are an employee) or online in multiple languages via Safecall’s secure web reporting facility: Individuals can also write to the M&S Group Secretary directly if they prefer.

Once concerns have been reported either via the phone or online to Safecall, a unique case number is generated which allows for confidential dialogue to take place between the parties (e.g. should there be any further questions to ask). This includes situations where the party wishes to remain anonymous. It also enables feedback to be provided (e.g. progress status).  

All issues and concerns raised via this mechanism are reviewed by a senior manager in the M&S Investigation Team (part of the Corporate Governance team) who will either investigate themselves or pass it onto the relevant individual or team within the business to investigate. This includes situations which either does or could relate to human rights.

All concerns will be taken seriously, fully investigated and appropriate action taken. All investigations conducted are also reported to our Audit Committee which is a committee of the M&S Board that deals with internal control and risk identification even where no wrongdoing has been found.

Supply chain 
All our suppliers are covered by our Global Sourcing Principles which require them to have their own grievance mechanisms in place. We also expect our suppliers to prohibit retaliation against workers or other stakeholders (including those that represent them) for raising concerns. 

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.

Where local and site based mechanisms fail, an individual or organisation can raise a complaint with us. They must be either directly affected by the issue or have a mandate to represent individuals or communities directly affected. 

During audits, our independent auditors leave calling cards with confidential phone numbers for workers to use to allow concerns to be raised after the audit has taken place. 
Concerns may also be reported via an independent and external facility. This facility is managed by Safecall and reporting can be done online in multiple languages via Safecall’s secure web reporting facility:

The complaint can be submitted in the individual’s or organisation’s own language.

Once concerns have been reported online to Safecall, a unique case number is generated which allows for confidential dialogue to take place between the parties (e.g. should there be any further questions to ask). This includes situations where the party wishes to remain anonymous. It also enables feedback to be provided (e.g. progress status). All issues and concerns raised via this mechanism are reviewed by a senior manager in the M&S Investigation Team (part of the Corporate Governance team) who will pass it onto either the Food Group  Senior Ethical Trade and Human Rights Manager or Head of Ethical Trading Clothing & Home to investigate.

We endeavour to acknowledge receipt within 2 working days (5 working days if in a language other than English). 

Our goal will always be to assess and then investigate all legitimate complaints and promote their resolution in the quickest possible timeframe. The complaint will be considered to have been resolved at an initial stage if and when the parties agree on a plan for remedial action to address the issue. Complaints vary in scale, complexity and geographical origin so it is not possible to say how long it will take to reach a resolution. The issue may be resolved in a matter of weeks or it could take months or even years. We will, however, always strive to keep all parties regularly informed (in their local language) of the steps that are being taken and the results of the process. Find out more about our grievance procedure for Clothing, Home and Food supply chains.

The OECD’s National Contact Points mechanism can be used in instances where individuals or communities feel they cannot raise a concern with us directly (see ‘Non-M&S grievance mechanisms’ below).
External individuals and communities
Our grievance mechanism is accessible to all external individuals or communities.

Concerns may be reported via an independent and external facility. This facility is managed by Safecall and reporting can be done online in multiple languages via Safecall’s secure web reporting facility:

The complaint can be submitted in the individual’s or organisation’s own language. We endeavour to acknowledge receipt within 2 working days (5 working days if in a language other than English).

All issues and concerns raised via this mechanism are reviewed by a senior manager in the M&S Investigation Team (part of the Corporate Governance team) who will either investigate themselves or pass it onto the Corporate Head of Human Rights or other relevant individual or team within the business to investigate. This includes situations which either does or could relate to human rights. 

Our goal will always be to assess and then investigate all legitimate complaints and promote their resolution in the quickest possible timeframe. The complaint will be considered to have been resolved at an initial stage if and when the parties agree on a plan for remedial action to address the issue. Complaints vary in scale, complexity and geographical origin so it is not possible to say how long it will take to reach a resolution. The issue may be resolved in a matter of weeks or it could take months or even years. We will, however, always strive to keep all parties regularly informed (in their local language) of the steps that are being taken and the results of the process. 

Alternatively, the OECD’s National Contact Points mechanism can be used in instances where individuals or communities feel they cannot raise a concern with us directly (see ‘Non-M&S grievance mechanisms’ below).
In all instances, if no agreement is forthcoming within a reasonable period of time and the investigation has been thorough and all available options have been exhausted, M&S reserves the right to decide on its actions in relation to the complaint. We will do this in consultation with the Corporate Head of Human Rights, the relevant Business Unit Director (e.g. Foods or Clothing & Home) and other senior directors (as appropriate).

Our approach to receipt of and response to grievances is evolving. And whilst we strive to have effective mechanisms in place, we recognise this is an area where have much to learn. We are, however, absolutely committed to promoting the channels through which individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted by our operations can raise complaints or concerns.

In 2021, we have committed to review our grievance and remedy process as part of evolving our process.

Find out more about our approach to responding to stakeholder concerns on human rights.
Non-M&S grievance mechanisms
We will take seriously any allegations that human rights are not properly respected and want to hear from any interested party that has reason to believe that such activity is taking place within our business or in any of our supply chains. Whilst we would encourage individuals or communities to raise a concern with us directly, we acknowledge that situations may arise where they feel they aren’t able to do this.

On such occasions, we would never impede access to state-based judicial or non-judicial mechanisms for individuals or communities who feel their human rights have been impacted. We also would not require individuals to waive their legal rights to bring a claim through a judicial process as a condition of participating in a grievance / mediation process. Neither would we impede competent authorities in investigating or adjudicating alleged human rights impacts. 

In particular, as a responsible business, and a signatory of the UN Global Compact, we support the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. These guidelines provide principles and standards for responsible business conduct (including human rights matters) for multinational corporations operating in or from countries adhered to the OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises

All OECD member countries and non-OECD adhering countries have functioning National Contact Points (NCPs) in place. NCPs provide a conciliation and mediation platform for resolving complaints that may arise in connection with implementing the Guidelines. Any interested party can file a complaint where they feel the guidelines have been breached by a multinational corporation. NCPs seek to resolve issues through amicable discussions to the satisfaction of the parties involved. If conciliation fails, complaints go through a process of mediation and if this ultimately fails the NCP issues a statement or makes a recommendation. Contact details for each country which has an NCP is available here

Whilst to date we have never received a claim against us, nor as far as we are aware against one of our suppliers, the OECD NCP mechanism can be used in instances where individuals and communities feel they aren’t able to raise a concern with us directly.

Collaborating with others to support and respect human rights
Driving convergence in supply chain practices

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, share our experiences and help address root causes and influence systemic positive change. 

We were a founding member of Sedex which was established in 2004 as a mechanism to drive improvements and convergence in responsible sourcing practices which includes health and safety and labour rights. We were also represented on the Sedex Board from 2001 to 2017. Through our work with Sedex we’ve shared best practice on data, assessments, training of auditors and audit quality.

We are a founding member of the Food Network of Ethical Trade (FNET) which aims to improve human rights in global food supply chains through a common approach to managing ethical trade. We currently sit on the FNET Board as the retailer board member.

We are active members of a number of other multi-stakeholder initiatives including the ETI, BSR, IHRB Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, and are partners in the ILO Better Work programme.

Each year we are involved in a wide range of projects with different suppliers and stakeholders to increase and share our understanding on root causes and solutions which contribute to respecting human rights and improving working conditions in our supply base.

For example, 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 4 countries – China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh. 10,000 women workers have now been trained.
Public policy advocacy

In every country we source from, we work with key suppliers, and where relevant national governments, multilateral platforms and civil society, to ensure human rights are respected and policies are in place to ensure a safe working environment and to work towards a fair living wage for workers who supply to us.

We’ve developed a bilateral relationship with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) 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. For example, we were one of five retailers who helped sponsor the ‘Stronger Together’ initiative. This initiative - developed by the Association of Labour Providers (ALP), the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and Migrant Help - aims to give UK employers the knowledge and resource they need to recognise signs of exploitation and tackle it in the food and agriculture industries.

As an early member of the Fast Forward Initiative looking at modern slavery in the garment industry we have trained our UK suppliers and are implementing Fast Forward audits in the supply chain. The group is also developing an Apparel & GM Public Private Partnership which was launched at the GLAA Conference in 2017.