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Horticulture is a very diverse industry with a wide array of crops and cultivation systems. Across Europe, it makes a significant contribution to the economy and produces around 44% of the world’s flowers and pot plants. During the next fifteen to twenty years global population will continue to rise placing unprecedented pressures on natural resources. 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 horticultural practices. As a relatively labour intensive industry, horticulture faces a number of social challenges such as instances of worker exploitation 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 horticultural community to provide the breadth of range and seasonal availability that our customers expect while minimising our impacts. For example, our Farming for the Future programme helped farmers and growers in our supply base address key challenges by finding opportunities to improve efficiency, environmental performance and ethical practice. We are currently refreshing our approach to how we work with flowers and plants suppliers on sustainable agriculture. 

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 quality by growers that are operating sustainably. This commitment applies right across our business, wherever we trade.  

Approach
Flowers and plants are very important to M&S. We source in the region of 500 million stems annually. We sell a wide selection of cut flowers, indoor and outdoor plants, bulbs and seeds. We are strong supporters of the UK horticultural industry and we take the lead in selling seasonal British flowers and have one of the largest market shares in daffodils. Our daffodils are grown exclusively for us by one grower in Cornwall and Scotland. 

We source UK cut flowers such as:

Sunflowers, tulips, Gladioli and Sweet Williams, peonies, asters, snowberries, chrysanthemum blooms, agapanthus and lilies from growers mostly around Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.


We source UK Plants such as:

Orchids, chrysanthemums, hydrangea, begonia, lavender, poinsettia, and perennials to name but a few. We source from growers in Suffolk, Lancashire, Warwickshire, Hampshire and Lincolnshire.


In addition, working through key partner suppliers in the UK we source from over 30 countries in order to give our customers the best quality produce as well as a varied choice throughout the year. Our most important sourcing regions are Holland, Colombia, South Africa and Kenya and we require complete visibility down to grower level. 

We have been widely recognised as a leader in supporting sustainable horticultural practices. We also actively support programmes which enhance the lives of people and communities connected with our supply chain.

Our approach to sourcing flowers and plants responsibly focuses on:


Establishing and maintaining clear minimum sourcing standards
Minimum Standards
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.

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 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 horticultural supply chain:

Every stage of the produce supply chain supplying into M&S needs to be audited (e.g. grower and packers). The ultimate responsibility for compliance rests with our direct supplier.

Our suppliers are also required to meet the requirements set out in our Global Sourcing Principles


Restricted countries, occupied territories and conflict zones
We do not source flowers and plants from countries which have been determined to be politically unstable and pose an unacceptable travel risk (e.g. Zimbabwe).

In line with current UK Government advice we also do not source from Occupied Palestinian Territories (i.e. the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) which are considered to be illegal settlements under international law.

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 horticultural supply chain means that there is a high level of ethical trade risk around the sourcing of flowers and plants. We require our suppliers to be actively assessing and managing 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 Marks & Spencer 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. 

Supporting programmes that further our understanding and build capacity within our supply chain
Sustainability credentials of our products

Our flowers and plants range includes products that:

  • Are sourced from sites which achieve the LEAF Marque or the MPS-A Standard (which recognises efforts to manage crop protection agents, fertilisers, energy, water and waste)
  • Carry the Fairtrade Mark
  • Harvesting has been overseen by the South African Flower Valley Conservation Trust
  • Supplied by companies which meet the Black Economic Empowerment (BBE) Level 4 on the South African Government’s Scorecard
Supporting programmes which enhance the lives of people and communities
Supporting small-scale producers
We have a long history of trading responsibly and always look for opportunities to support small-scale producers in less developed countries. 

Fynbos bouquets
Fynbos flowers are unique to South Africa’s Agulhas Plain in the Western Cape. In 2005, we identified them as a unique addition to our range to differentiate our flower offer from other retailers. However, the landscape of Agulhas Plain is under threat from fast expanding horticulture and other farming and also has a very high unemployment rate. Fynbos flowers grow wild, so it’s important that they are harvested in a sustainable way that creates livelihoods from the land and conserves the natural environment. So, we worked with a local conservation trust to develop a responsible harvesting code which the producers are expected to abide by.

Fairtrade

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

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


Worker Programmes

We actively work with our suppliers on supporting workers in our supply chain on programmes including leadership skills, financial literacy and health. 

For example, we decided to work with Emerging Leaders an NGO that provided leadership training to around 50,000 supply chain workers in Kenya, east Africa and South Africa, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The training takes participates on an incredible journey to a new mind-set and empowers them to take others on the same journey as leaders in their communities. Many tell us that the programme has led to improved productivity, better retention of high quality, motivated employees and less dependency on casual labour.

Water stewardship

We are committed to working with our suppliers to improve their water efficiency and working with others collectively to address water challenges in important and vulnerable sourcing locations. We have worked on developing our water stewardship approach at farm level for over 9 years, which started in Kenya. 

Kenya is one of our major sourcing regions for flowers and water for irrigation is a concern. In particular, flower farms in the Great Rift Valley depend heavily on Lake Naivasha for irrigation which shrinks significantly during periods of drought putting these businesses and communities under threat.

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 organisations. The work involved pilots at flower and vegetable farms in the Lake Naivasha Basin to explore the costs and benefits of standard implementation, and the implementations for local communities and wide basin governance. 

The Kenya case study was the first ever exploration of how a water stewardship standard could work in a developing country. The work investigated whether existing standards were fit-for-purpose and viable in delivering better water management in the challenging context of an African river basin. The outcomes of the study have been used to develop the first draft of what has become International Water Stewardship Standard. 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. You can read about some of our key learnings from our Water Stewardship journey here. 

Building on this work, over the last 10 years our suppliers have developed a strong water stewardship approach in this region. M&S continues to support water stewardship across various crops and sourcing regions through our commitment to the WRAP 2030 Courtald Water Ambition.

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 flowers and plants to a high standard 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, Pesticide Action Network (PAN), Royal Horticultural Society,) to further research and progress our standards. 

We’re working with a number of civil society organisations to enhance the lives of people and communities connected with our supply chain, including WWF, Emerging Leaders and Fairtrade International