Last updated: February 2016
H&M or M&S?
Even with our web-based tools, deciding on the most ethical choice is not always straightforward.
Generally it depends on what matches your own personal concerns and standards.
When it comes to High Street Clothing, the choice also depends on whether you look at just the ethics regarding actions in the clothing sector, or at the wider ethics of a business.
Here we look at the ratings for H&M and Marks & Spencer.
Despite some improvements that companies have made in response to ‘ethical clothing’ campaigns, especially in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster, in our product guide to High Street Clothing the whole clothing sector still scores badly.
As a rule of thumb any score below 10 is poor on ethics, and as you can see below the highest scoring company has an overall score of 9.
H&M top of the tree
H&M scores best out of the 17 high street shops, supermarkets and online shops that we examined.
This is what we wrote about H&M in the guide:
"H&M has promoted itself as a more ethical clothing retailer and produces reams of material about its supply chain policies, although it is unclear how much is just talk and how much makes a real difference.
H&M has been slammed recently for lagging behind on its commitments under the Bangladeshi Accord. However, activists say the issues are not unique to H&M, and the reason that they have focused on H&M is simply because it is such a big buyer from Bangladesh.
H&M has a ‘Roadmap to a Fair Living Wage’ aimed at increasing wages in its supplier factories, which has been both praised and criticised by Labour Behind the Label – praised for including solid targets and dates, but crucially, criticised for failing to define what a living wage actually is.”
Like M&S (who we'll discuss in detail below), H&M also aims for all its cotton to come from “more sustainable sources” by 2020."
So is H&M is a better option than M&S?
Sadly it's not that simple...
One surprising result of the research is that M&S is down near the bottom of the table, sitting beside TK Maxx.
Below you can see this on the "full table view".
In the clothing sector M&S has taken many positive steps, for example it:
- has signed the Bangladesh Accord
- was rated a leader in Greenpeace’s ‘Detox Catwalk’.
- has checks in place to ensure that none of its cotton comes from Uzbekistan,
- aims to procure 70% of its cotton from sustainable sources (either Better Cotton Initiative, Fairtrade, Organic or recycled) by 2020
- is one of a very few companies to receive the Clean Clothes Campaign’s top rating in 2014 for its work towards improving wages in its supply chain - not one of the other companies in the table received this rating)
M&S also scores well on the two policies on which we rate every company in every product guide - Environmental Reporting (ER) and Supply Chain Management (SCM).
We can see this by using the sliders located under the expanded score card on the product guide pages.
If you set the environmental reporting and supply chain management sliders to the highest setting you'll see that M&S is now joint top of the table with John Lewis and Next.
TK Maxx, who was next to M&S, is now at the bottom.
So why does M&S score so badly overall when it has a better record on ethics than most of the other companies in the table?
We can find out by having a look at some of the other marks on the table.
For example if you click on the Factory Farming mark you'll see the following story:
The company also fares badly on the issue of political lobbying. It scores badly for its involvement in two lobby groups that have been criticised for putting the interests of business over the people and the planet.
Anti Social Finance
In addition if you click on the Anti-Social Finance mark on the table. You'll see the company picks up marks for the following:
All these stories don't directly reflect the work the company has done in the clothing sector, but demonstrate that it has much more work to do on ethics in its food retail business with regard to factory farming.
If you're a fashionista who cares passionately about the fashion industry and those that work in it you may want to opt for M&S. But if you're a vegan with a dim view of political lobbying H&M may be the high street retailer for you.
Alternatively you could check out our Alternatives Clothing guide for some higher scoring smaller ethical brands.
For more on how to use the tools on our unique product guides please see our video tutorial.