In july 2020 Ethical Consumer searched for information on Marks and Spencer's GM policy. A questionniare response that had been received from Marks and Spencer in March 2017 was still assumed to apply as no evidence could be found to the contrary.
In response to a question regarding the company's policy on genetic modification, it was stated: “M&S Food is not made with genetically modified ingredients nor the use of nanotechnology.”
In relation to genetically modified ingredients in animal feed, it was stated: “Due to a lack of non-GM animal feed available to UK farmers, we, alongside other retailers, do not stipulate the use of non-GM animal feed in our fresh meat supply chain.”

Ethical Consumer also viewed the M&S website which contained a policy on GM. It stated "Marks & Spencer are committed to providing foods which do not contain Genetically Modified (GM) ingredients or derivatives.Our definition of ingredients and derivatives covers any substance, including additives, used in the manufacture or preparation of a product which is still present in the finished product, even if in altered form." This was not considered to cover GM animal feed.

Due to the fact that the company was likely to be selling meat from animals fed a GM diet the company lost half a mark in the Controversial Technology category.

Reference:

Questionnaire from company (1 March 2017)

In July 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Marks and Spencer's cotton sourcing policy dated December 2017 and a webpage titled 'Cotton' on the company's corporate website.

It stated that M&S suppliers must not source cotton from Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan and that suppliers must provide the country of origin of all cotton products. This was considered a positive policy addressing workers' rights issues in the cotton supply chain.

M&S had a committment to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2019. The website stated that: "Our goal is to ensure that 100% of the cotton for our clothing continues to be sustainably sourced - a goal we first met in March 2019." It defined sustainable cotton as meeting any one of the following standards: Better Cotton Initiative (BCI); organic cotton; Fairtrade; recycled cotton. For BCI and organic cotton a minimum of 50% of product composition was required to meet "Plan A Product Attribute" purposes, for recycled cotton it was 25%.
It was widely reported that cotton covered 2.5% of the world's cultivated land yet used 16% of the world's insecticides, more than any other major crop. Due to the fact that M&S's criteria did not require all cotton to be grown with fewer pesticides (e.g. M&S sustainable cotton could address workers rights only) M&S lost half a mark in the Pollution and Toxics category.

The policy did not mention GMOs. In a questionnaire completed by M&S in February 2017 regarding GMO cotton, it was stated: “On the use of GM cotton our position is neutral – we leave it to the farmer to decide which is best for them.” According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit pro biotech organisation, genetically modified cotton accounted for 75% of cotton grown in 2015. Due to the prevalence of GM cotton in cotton supply chains and the lack of any evidence that the company avoided it, it was assumed that the company's cotton products contained some GM material. It therefore lost half a mark in the Controversial Technologies category.

As it lost marks under two out of three of Ethical Consumer's cotton rating criteria, Marks and Spencer received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for its cotton sourcing policy.

Reference:

cotton sourcing policy (December 2017)

A search of EuroCommerce, www.eurocommerce.eu, in July 2020 found M&S listed as a member. According to its website, 'EuroCommerce strives to ensure that every company, big or small, has the ability to be competitive, has access to efficient payment systems, and is not impeded by any market access barriers'.

Ethical Consumer considered EuroCommerce to be an international corporate lobby group which exerted undue corporate influence on policy-makers in favour of market solutions that were potentially detrimental to the environment and human rights. Therefore M&S lost half a mark under Political Activites.

Reference:

Members List July 2020 (27 July 2020)

According to the organisation's website www.errt.org, viewed by Ethical Consumer in December 2019, Marks and Spencer was a member of the European Retail Round Table. This was regarded by Ethical Consumer as an international corporate lobby group which exerted undue corporate influence on policy-makers in favour of market solutions that were potentially detrimental to the environment and human rights. The company therefore lost half a mark under Political Activities.

Reference:

Members List 2019 (December 2019)

In July 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed the Marks and Spencer Annual Report 2020 which contained information on director remuneration.
It stated that the chief executive, Steve Rowe, received a total of £1,211,000 in the 2019-20 financial year.
As Ethical Consumer deemed any annual remuneration over £1,000,000 to be excessive, Marks and Spencer lost half a mark under Anti-Social Finance.

Reference:

Annual Report 2020 (2020)

Pirc, a shareholders advisory group, and Manifest, a proxy voting agency, had both raised concerns about excessive remuneration for supermarkets' chief executives, according to an article published on 5 July 2015 on the Guardian website. Similar shareholder protests had hit all the main supermarkets at their recent annual shareholder meetings.

Marks & Spencer was criticised for offering its chief executive share awards worth up to three times his salary based on performance targets that were not linked to financial targets. Pirc also raised concern about an executive share option plan that allowed "awards to be accelerated in the event of a takeover or when an executive leaves the business. It recommended shareholders vote against both schemes."

Low pay campaigners from ShareAction and Citizens UK had also targeted Marks & Spencer to urge the retailer to pay its staff at least the Foundation Rate of £7.85 per hour or £9.15 in London.

M&S lost half a mark under both Workers' Rights and Anti-Social Finance in light of this story.

Reference:

Sainsbury's and M&S under fire over executive and staff pay disparity (5 July 2015)

In July 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Marks & Spencer's list of subsidiaries in its Annual Report 2020. This showed that the company had a number of subsidiaries in jurisdictions considered by Ethical Consumer to be tax havens at the time of writing. Of these, 5 were considered to be high risk company types for likely use of tax avoidance:
- Marks and Spencer (Singapore) Investments Pte. Ltd. in Singapore
- Marks and Spencer (Hong Kong) Investments Limited in Hong Kong
- M.S. General Insurance L .P. in Guernsey
- Teranis Limited in Guernsey (member of Marks and Spencer Guernsey Investments Limited Liability Partnership)
- Ignazia Limited in Guernsey (member of Marks and Spencer Guernsey Investments Limited Liability Partnership)

In July 2019 Ethical Consumer received a call from Marks and Spencer. The spokesperson stated that the subsidiaries in Hong Kong and Singapore were for the purposes of the company's stores in these juristictions.

In August 2019 Ethical Consumer received an email from Marks and Spencer regarding tax. It had a link to the company's tax policy, on the company's website. This stated, amongst other things:

"We will not seek to undertake contrived or artificial transactions (including the use of marketed or abusive schemes) or those with no commercial or economic substance. We only operate in low tax jurisdictions where there are commercial business reasons to do so (e.g. retail shops)."

The email to Ethical Consumer also stated:

"M&S takes its responsibility to pay the right and fair amount of tax very seriously. We conduct our tax affairs in a transparent and legally compliant manner that is consistent with our longstanding values and complies with the tax laws of all jurisdictions in which we operate."

"I believe you had a question specific to the detail of M&S Guernsey subsidiary and to clarify - M&S previously owned a financial services business (M&S Money), which was sold to HSBC in 2004. We retained an insurance operation (MS Insurance LP), which is used for M&S self-insurance as a method of good risk management. Ignazia Limited is a partner in this operation."

Given that Marks & Spencer had a comprehensive tax policy, and explained the reasons for the existence of certain subsidiaries in juristictions considered by Ethical Consumer to be tax havens at the time of writing, the company did not lose any marks for likely use of tax avoidance strategies.

Reference:

Annual Report 2020 (2020)