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Coronavirus response

The impact of COVID-19 across the clothing sector was completely unprecedented and has been felt acutely by both retailers and our suppliers. We are very proud to have strong long-term relationships with our clothing suppliers; in fact, we have worked with over 70% of our supply base for over seven years.

We continue to track changes in each country and maintain regular contact with our suppliers and factories working through a plan which is as follows:

  • We have paid and continue to pay for all shipped products
  • Whilst our previous standard payment terms (75 days) have been extended to 120 days in response to Covid-19, we are continuing to offer supply chain finance which means suppliers get early access to cash regardless of payment terms
  • We have taken precautionary steps to ensure suppliers are implementing safeguarding measures to protect garment workers. This includes social distancing, sanitising practices, providing adequate protective equipment and additional awareness training about the virus
  • We fully support the efforts of the Ethical Trading Initiative and our partner the International Labour Organization who are facilitating the coordination and distribution of emergency relief funds, supporting safe working where manufacturing continues and co-ordinating an industry-wide response. We endorsed the “COVID-19: Action in the Global Garment Industry” which you can read on the ILO’s website
  • We were also involved in submitting proposals to DFID to support their COVID-19 Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility (VSCF), to form partnerships that support and respond to the challenges that COVID-19 presents within DFID-priority countries and ensure the most vulnerable workers and suppliers are prepared for the anticipated economic and social shocks
  • More widely, we remain committed to our Global Sourcing Principles that outline how we work with suppliers in relation to human rights, sustainability and decent working conditions



We live in an increasingly globalised society. Many of the products we enjoy in everyday life have been sourced and produced in locations from all over the world. All companies depend on economically strong and stable communities to trade successfully. This is just as true for the communities we buy from as the communities we sell to. Retailers are increasingly scrutinised on the strength of their relationships with suppliers and their local communities as well as efforts to address poor working conditions and unfair trading practices. 

As one of the most trusted brands on the high street, we believe our role is to reassure our customers and key stakeholders that we are a fair partner. Being a fair partner covers the prices we pay to suppliers and producers of raw materials as well as the support we provide to communities where we trade. It also includes our responsibilities to ensure good working conditions throughout our supply chains and our products have been sourced and produced with integrity.

Commitments and targets
We’re only as strong as the communities in which we operate. We’re committed to paying a fair price to suppliers, supporting local communities and ensuring good working conditions in our supply chain.

Our clothing and home supply chain is global and our products are made exclusively for M&S and this unique position means they are not comparable with the rest of the market. We don’t own any farms or factories or make the products that are sold in our stores. Our reputation for quality, innovation and sustainability is built on excellent long term relationships with our suppliers.

We source our clothing and home products from factories in our key sourcing countries including: Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Turkey and Sri Lanka. 

In 2016, we published an interactive map which shows where our M&S clothing, homeware and beauty products are made. The map highlights production countries as well as individual factory locations and profiles for sites used by our direct suppliers. Visit the interactive map here.

We will not compromise on either quality or our relationships and maintain a competitive stance on price. We only source from suppliers who meet our standards or who have given a commitment to achieve our standards within an agreed timescale. 

We are committed to supporting programmes which continually improve working and environmental conditions in global supply chains. For example, we were a signatory of the original Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (2013) aiming for sustainable improvements to working conditions in the Bangladesh garment industry. We have since also signed the subsequent Transition Accord (2018), the Interim Agreement (2021), and the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. We have also supported the International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia programme since 2001 and have been a participant in Better Work since 2007.

As a business we 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 our approach to respecting human rights

Our Clothing & Home Terms and Conditions set out our minimum requirements for suppliers and factories in order to meet our commitment to customers to deliver products that are safe, legal and high quality and which have been produced with integrity.

These terms are supported by specific policies (e.g. Packaging, Clothing & Home Animal Welfare, and so on) and Guidelines (which are advisory in nature). Our minimum requirements are fully understood at a senior management level and communicated to all staff involved in producing our products.

All suppliers are required to commit to supporting the delivery of Plan A – our sustainability programme. This includes progressively introducing Plan A product attributes into finished products. Find out more about our approach to product standards

We routinely carry out audits of suppliers to ensure that our expectations on worker health and safety and integrity are being met. All suppliers must agree to be audited frequently by M&S and annually by approved independent third party companies against brand values, policy statements, Codes of Practice and Guidelines, and International Standards and they commit to taking action as a result of any findings.

Our approach to supplier management focuses on:

Ensuring that our suppliers have effective management systems in place
Effective and comprehensive management systems
Our suppliers must operate with have robust quality management systems. This is key to ensuring that they are capable of complying with all legal and relevant M&S obligations.

Our Global Sourcing Principles set out the standards that we expect our suppliers to comply with and the processes and systems we expect them to implement in order to promote respect for human rights, sustainability and decent working conditions. It is our suppliers’ responsibility to achieve and maintain these standards and to enforce them within their own supply chain.

Suppliers must objectively measure and track a strict set of agreed KPIs (e.g. garment quality, conformity to specifications, data accuracy, compliance against Global Sourcing Principles, etc) on a six monthly basis and be proactive in identifying any trends and taking preventive action.

We expect suppliers to highlight any issues concerning quality or integrity to us as soon as possible.
Staff competencies and awareness
We expect suppliers to take a progressive attitude to employee training and ensure that staff are competent to perform their duties. This also applies where temporary staff are used. 

For example, we would expect that basic training should cover general health and safety and fire safety and induction training covering worker rights and responsibilities.

Responsible employment practices

We have a zero tolerance approach to forced labour of any kind within our operations and supply chain. 

As set out in our Global Sourcing Principles, 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.

All work must also be voluntary, and not done under any threat of penalties or sanctions. Workers must not pay any deposits for work, and employers whether labour users or recruiters – must not keep original copies of identity documents.

Indentured labour is prohibited, and workers must be free to leave work at any time, with all salary owed to be paid. In May 2016, we strengthened our Global Sourcing Principles by adding a statement prohibiting the payment of direct or indirect recruitment fees to secure a job, and requiring suppliers to have adequate due diligence in place to ensure this does not happen.

We have become a member of Fast Forward – a collaborative initiative to build labour standards compliance within the UK garment and general merchandise retail supply base. It includes forensic auditing methodology using a number of non-traditional analyses and approaches. It aims to drive transparency and help prevent exploitation by concentrating on six key areas: the national living wage, right to work, employment contracts, mistreatment, tax and a safe and hygienic environment.

We have also recently joined the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment and core membership and subscribe to the Employer Pays Principle.

Establishing positive relationships with our suppliers
Fair prices and payment
We are committed to fair and transparent payment practices. We will not compromise on either our quality or our relationships with our suppliers and maintain a competitive stance on price. 

We have also signed up to the Prompt Payment Code. We make correct and full payment as and when due for all goods and services supplied in accordance with the contract or agreement. We will not deliberately delay or unreasonably withhold payment. Any action we take is always justifiable and proportionate (e.g. where goods are defective or have not been supplied). 

Working towards a fair living wage
Within our supply chain we ensure all workers are paid at least the minimum wage and through responsible purchasing practices, supplier partnerships and wage initiatives we are working towards a fair living wage. Overtime should always be compensated at a premium rate, and where piece work is used, suppliers must be able to demonstrate that the minimum wage is always met, that there is a fair test, and that rates are flexed according to conditions. 

We have assessed our clothing and home supply base to understand where the gaps between minimum wages and poverty benchmarks are highest. This has enabled us to understand that the greatest gaps are likely to be specifically in India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

We regularly refresh our research in our key sourcing countries including academic research, benchmarking exercises of actual wages, cost of living, and desk-based analysis of existing information and field research. We cross-check this information regularly with the real wages paid by factories in our supply base. 
Checking that our clothing and home safety and integrity standards are met
Ethical Audits
We aim to enhance the lives and support the local communities of the people who work for and with us. We’re committed to sourcing responsibly and we work closely with our suppliers to make sure they respect human rights, promote decent working conditions and improve sustainability across our supply base. 

Our Global Sourcing Principles set out our minimum global supplier standards on health and safety, labour standards, environment, business ethics, equality and community human rights topics. These standards apply across our entire business. 

We have a number of policies and guidelines on ethical trade and have clear protocols in place for setting up a supplier and our system and approving a factory for production. For example, we have a robust procedure in place for managing instances of child labour if found within our supply chain

The process is managed by our specialist Sourcing Office compliance teams located in Turkey, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China, Cambodia and Vietnam. Our Sourcing Office compliance teams' areas of responsibility cover audit follow up and beyond audit capacity building projects. 

All of our first tier production sites (which we define as making whole/finished products carrying an M&S label or are identifiable as an M&S product) are required to have an annual ethical audit. The majority of sites use Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) ethical audit methodology and are registered on Sedex. Sedex is the largest collaborative platform for sharing ethical supply chain data. 

All SMETA ethical audits must be conducted to the 2-Pillar Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit Methodology (SMETA) by a third party independent audit company, which is based on the ETI Base Code and International Country Laws.

Anti-Bribery requirements: suppliers are required to sign to say that they will adhere with our anti-bribery requirements.

Financial Health Check: we also request the last 3 years financial statements. 

Once approved, suppliers are required to sign to confirm that they will comply with the Global Sourcing Principles

We do not accept production from non-approved factories or sites that differ from our contracts system for each specific contract. Sites unknown or not approved by M&S is considered to be illegal sub-contracting and a breach of our Terms of Trade. 

We require audits to be done on a semi-announced basis within an audit window. We do however reserve the right to conduct unannounced audits.

The audit must cover the entire site. For example, if the factory is part of a multi-storied building, all floors must be audited even if M&S production is only taking place on certain floors. We do not accept shared factories where different floors are occurred by different organisations.

We will also accept second party SMETA audits undertaken by individuals who have completed the ICRA registered 3 day auditing course and had 2 successful witnessed audits.  

We may in certain circumstances consider accepting Better Work assessments, FastForward, WRAP, ICTI, SA 8000 and Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) audits (if, for instance, they have conducted within the last year) and the full reports are made available to us for review.)

Based on the results of the audit, the relevant Regional Compliance team assign a rating based on the number and severity of issues raised, as critical, high risk or low risk.

With the exception of the following fire safety issues (which we consider as critical rather than major) we use the SMETA Non-Compliance Guidance to assess the severity of issues:

  • Locked or blocked aisles/exits preventing use
  • Firefighting equipment inaccessible, insufficient, unusable or wrong type or no training on its use
  • No fire alarm
  • No evacuation procedures, drills or training
  • No, or inadequately, functioning emergency lighting
  • Systematic failures in health and safety systems
We also require all sites with more than 50 workers to have in place an elected worker committee or trade union.

We have specific policies and guidelines to manage instances of child labour and illegal sub-contracting.

Newly proposed sites that are rated as 'Critical' will not be approved for set-up and production, until all the critical issues have been resolved. As a minimum, the factory will be rejected for 12 months. Any existing sites identified as ‘Critical’ are managed in accordance with our Critical Escalation Procedure and may be disengaged if they remain critical after three follow-up reviews (typically 3 – 6 months). Sites rated as High Risk are permitted to produce on a conditional basis for a period of time (e.g. six months).

Corrective Action Plans must be uploaded onto Sedex within two weeks of the audit and all actions completed within the recommended timescales. 

We actively track and follow up on our suppliers’ progress towards what they’ve agreed to address within their Corrective Action Plans as shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: M&S Clothing and Home Direct Supplier Sites Audit Data - 01/04/2021 to 31/03/2022


ContinentSupplier sites Audited supplier sites Total workers at supplier sitesSMETA Improvements Required*Improvements Required per SMETA audit*
South America113211818.00
Total 78669666541125695.56

*Based on the data available at the time of reporting

The following chart (Figure 1) presents the top 5 ethical trade non-compliance issue areas identified through ethical audits.

Non-compliance issues related to ‘Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining**’, forced labour (‘Employment is Freely Chosen**’) and ‘Discrimination**’ were less commonly identified. In part, this reflects how difficult it is to identify these more hidden or subtle issues through ethical audits. It is for this reason that we work with suppliers through collaborative working and advocacy initiatives to improve the performance in identifying and managing ethical trade issues.

Figure 1: Clothing and Home - Top 5 Issues Raised in SMETA Audits 2021/22

Quality Audits
We have a strong heritage of sourcing with integrity. Our goal is to offer our customers a high standard of product quality and safety in all our clothing and home products. 

Once a supplier / factory has been approved ethically and financially they are required to have completed a Quality Management Systems (QMS) audit prior to any business being placed.

The assessment focuses on ensuring our reputation is not put at risk by the use of suppliers who cannot manufacture consistently to the standards we expect prior to production commencing. The assessment covers:

  • Management calibre
  • Risk mitigation
  • Raw Materials
  • Traceability
  • Document control
  • Manufacture capability; and
  • Manufacture control
We routinely carry out audits of suppliers to ensure that our expectations on product quality and safety are being met. All suppliers must agree to be audited on a specified frequency by M&S or their approved third parties against brand values, policy statements, Codes of Practice and Guidelines, and commit to taking action as a result of any findings. 

M&S QMS audits are product type specific and are carried out either by the M&S Regional Office or as a Self-Audit by the supplier is a full service vendor. This allows us to rank factories and monitor improvements in the supply base. Any QMS Corrective Action Plan Report that is in place is reviewed by M&S every 6 months.

The total time to approve a new supplier and factory is typically 5 weeks.

New Build Sites
In the event that a supplier is seeking approval to use a newly built factory a pre-production third party ethical audit is not appropriate. This is because the factory will have no records for payroll or working hours. 

In such instances we still require that the factory is registered on Sedex and has completed all the SAQ modules. The new factory must also have a temporary or full elected worker representative in place.

Our Regional Compliance Managers will undertake a one day assessment generally within the first week of production. On assumption that no critical issues are identified the factory is approved for a probationary period of three months.

After the 3 month probationary period a full third party ethical audit must be carried which will be assessed our standard Audit Policy.

Non-M&S Branded Products
We are predominantly an own-brand retailer, licensed and non-M&S branded goods are a very small proportion of what we sell. Suppliers of non-M&S branded goods are expected to have noted the requirements of our Global Sourcing Principles and to have established similar arrangements.

We do not currently use homeworking in our supply chain. If we require additional operations or processes to be done outside the factory we have a policy of using approved outsourcing units such as embroidery. These units will be visited by our regional compliance teams to ensure the working conditions and employment conditions are in line with our Global Sourcing Principles
Sandblasting is a finishing technique used to create a worn look by blasting crystalline silica – a compound found in sand – onto the material under high pressure. Abrasive blasting operations can create high levels of dust and noise. Abrasive material and the surface being blasted may contain toxic materials (e.g. silica) which can be harmful to workers.

Research in late 2010 into the medical effects of sandblasting on workers lungs showed that without full protective breathing apparatus and proper safeguards, workers were contracting silicosis by breathing in the silica – this is an irreversible condition that leads to respiratory problems or lung failure. Efforts to enforce the use of breathing equipment have not been effective and therefore the industry has concluded that monitoring is not a guarantee and therefore a ban of the process is the only way to ensure the health and safety standards for these workers that our codes of conduct require.

In early 2011 we therefore formally prohibited the use of this technique in the manufacture of our clothing and home products and communicated it to all our buying teams and suppliers. 

Responsible Factory Exit or Closure
We are committed to taking appropriate steps to safeguard the welfare of workers in our supply chain. We are mindful that any decision to shift production elsewhere or close a factory could have negative consequences particularly if such action happens quite abruptly. 

The approach to closure and disengagement of factories should be planned, with clear rules, policies and commitments based on:

  • Compliance – with national laws, international labour standards and the terms of any collective bargaining agreements that are in place
  • Consultation between all key internal and external stakeholders
We encourage all parties to work together to mitigate the negative consequences. For example, workers should be paid their legal entitlements including social security, pensions and severance. 

Building capacity and capability
Capacity building programmes
We have an aspiration to be a leading major retailer on sustainability, but we can only achieve this if we spark systemic, innovative change within our supply base. We appreciate that it can be challenging for our suppliers to meet our requirements. We also know that it can be difficult for many suppliers to see what this brings in terms of direct benefits to them. We need to understand and be sensitive to these issues. Capacity building is absolutely essential to making this happen.

Whilst ongoing monitoring of compliance is of course necessary and useful, it is not the be all and end all. For instance, solely focusing on individual non-compliances can result in underlying issues being missed. In addition, this approach may not identify emerging issues or support the development of a continuous improvement culture within our supply base. 

We therefore complement our existing activities by going ‘beyond compliance’ and defining areas of continuous improvement with our suppliers. We do this by providing a range of capacity building tools and incentives to align our respective goals and objectives. This includes capacity in terms of resources, technical skills, knowledge, as well as research and development. 

Supplier training and support

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 actively encourage our supply base to take part in our training programmes and help our suppliers find the right course to meet the needs of the workers or the factory. Our programme covers a range of topics including employees' role, responsibilities and rights, basic health care, fire safety, numeracy and literacy. They are delivered by our Ethical Trading team or specialist third parties through a variety of formats including e-learning, presentations, workshops, practical assessments, webinars or case studies. 

For example, for several years we implemented a Fire Safety programme in all factories in Bangladesh with Worldwide Responsible Accreditation Production (WRAP). The programme was 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. By December 2015 all of our garment factories had a worker fire champion in place. This training is now carried out with the Bangladesh Accord.

We also 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 participants 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.

Wage Digitisation Programme

Opening bank accounts for those who were previously unbanked and processing direct transfer of salaries to bank accounts for low-income factory workers using biometrics such as fingerprints rather than documentation has had a direct, positive, wage-related impact for the worker in many ways:

  • Living wage increase through reduction of leakage and corruption associated with cash salary payments;
  • Security of cash
  • Income on their cash
  • Social inclusion
  • Becoming part of the formal economy
  • Financial security and control leads to a desire to further improve education and promotion opportunities in workers

To find out more read our blog.

Health Programme

Targeting women garment workers and their communities, this health project delivers immediate and midterm interventions, to support and re-stabilise community health care systems and services, deliver targeted health messaging and communications in and around factories, and build community-level capacity for collective action. The project complements workplace safety guidelines already being implemented in factories and a result of these interventions, the garment supply chain  benefits from safer working conditions, reduced absenteeism and improved productivity. 

The project strengthens the functionality of public-private healthcare networks to maintain crucial services and improve linkages between facilities and factories for reduced long-term health consequences. Women garment workers are supported to become community leaders to mobilise WASH interventions benefiting themselves, their families and communities.

We have run this project in Cambodia and Bangladesh with lighter versions in India, Sri Lanka and China.

Gender Programmes

Women play important roles as consumers, salaried and waged workers, entrepreneurs, own account and smallholder family labour within every tier of global value chains, from retail through distribution to production and primary inputs. However, in every role and at every tier, women continue to face barriers from violence to social inequalities, lack of access to resources and limited opportunities for progression. This has a ripple effect on families, communities, companies and even economies.

We are delivering a number of projects to help address these issues including research to understand what leadership looks like for women and the specific barriers to achieving this, delivery of health-based projects, financial literacy projects including digitisation of wages for all workers and training to tackle gender-based violence. Our broader suite of programmes focus on issues including worker voice, leadership skills and fire health and safety which also support the empowerment and progression of women in our supply chain.

We work closely with all of our suppliers to achieve positive impacts and partner with organisations including; Better Work, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, British High Commission, Business for Social Responsibility, Care International, DFID, Ethical Trade Initiative, GSK and ILO amongst others to help deliver our work.

Workplace Communications Programme

Effective workplace engagement is key to achieving a healthy workplace environment. It is important to start by building trust through efforts to improve information provision and consultation with workers. 

To help our suppliers in this task we have developed a Workplace Communications programme - a two day training course and toolkit available for all our suppliers which set out how to develop or improve the provision of, and management interaction with, trade unions, worker committees, effective communication channels and trade union relationships. 

Supporting market transformation through working with industry partners and other stakeholders

Most of the sustainability issues we face can’t be resolved by a single organisation, or by implementing one solution. We frequently advocate a specific position or approach to an issue in order to promote wide-scale change at the right pace – focusing on public policy and thought leadership. 

Public policy can help make change easier (e.g. setting guiding principles, offering incentives, regulation, and so on) or it can get in the way. And contributing to thought leadership is important to ensure that the retail sector transforms itself as quickly as possible. 

We’ve developed a bilateral relationship with the Department for International Development (DFID) 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. Through our membership of the Consumer Goods Forum we’re helping to drive global collaboration between retailers and manufacturers and thereby address forced labour.

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

We’re working with a large number of organisations to support our supplier management activities. We were founding members of the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex), which aims to drive improvements and convergence in responsible sourcing practices. Operationally we’re supported by a number of organisations including the ILO Better Work, BRC Global Standards, ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative)and Fast Forward to name but a few.

We support a number of programmes that help improve working conditions in our supply base, in partnership with organisations such as Better Factories Cambodia, ILO Better Work, Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, Emerging Leaders and the Better Cotton Initiative

Find our more about our Clothing & Home collaborations and memberships.