In December 2019 Ethical Consumer received a questionnaire response from Sainsbury's and attached or linked information on the company's supply chain management, namely, 'Supplier Policy on Ethical Trade' (July 2019), Sainsbury's Values Update 2019, Sainsbury’s Argos Site standard, and the Sainsbury's Argos Code of Conduct (issued November 2018).

Supply chain policy (rudimentary)
Sainsbury's Argos Code of Conduct included adequate provisions on forced labour, working hours, living wages, freedom of association and discrimination. The clause on child labour did not define the age of a child restricted from working, but it stated "Under the code of conduct, all our suppliers must comply with the ETI Base Code", and was a member. For this reason it was considered adequate. It also stated, "The Standards which apply to all of our suppliers".

However, it did not mention its Habitat business. In Sainsbury's 2018 Annual Report it had stated: "Following the acquisition of Home Retail Group in 2016, we have focused on integrating Argos into our Sustainability Plan and will be looking at Habitat next." Sainsbury's does not appear to have yet applied its Sustainability Plan across the whole Home Retail Group. Sainsbury's supply chain policy was considered to be rudimentary as it did not appear to cover its full supply chain including that for Habitat.

Stakeholder engagement (rudimentary)
Ethical Consumer viewed the Ethical Trading Initiative's website in October 2019 and found that Sainsbury’s was listed as a full member of the multi-stakeholder initiative.

While the company is one of the largest retailers in the UK of Fairtrade certified own branded products it announced in 2017 that it was going to stop using the certification scheme and use its own – Fairly Traded label, which has attracted criticisms for its lack of independence.

Regarding a complaint hotline for workers’ within its supply chain to report violations of its code of conduct, Sainsbury's stated in its questionnaire response: "We use an independent hotline, Sainsbury's RightLine... in our Fairly Traded tea pilot across Malawi and Rwanda ... local parties receive information via Short Message Service (SMS) to dedicated local numbers, translate these into English and pass them to RightLine."
"As literacy remains an issue for farming populations, we are also trialling Computer Assisted Telephone Interview surveys in Malawi. ... The surveys are coordinated by Geopoll, a full-service research provider utilising a mobile survey platform that can be multi-modal and has extensive experience globally conducting survey research. ... Farmers can provide feedback through the surveys for free, with credit returned to respondents’ phones."

Overall the company was considered to have a rudimentary approach to stakeholder engagement.

Auditing and reporting (rudimentary)
Attached to the questionnaire response was a Sainsbury’s Argos Site standard, and the response also linked to
Sainsbury's 'Supplier Policy on Ethical Trading', which stated: "We recognise the importance of being aware of labour practices in our supply chains and the need to monitor, evaluate and act on information about our suppliers’, sites’ and growers’ performance. To do this, we use a range of tools including independent, third party audits of suppliers and sites, self-assessment questionnaires and confidential mechanisms for workers to highlight issues. We view worker and supplier communication as critical for identifying and resolving supply chain issues."

It stated that all suppliers must:
"Ensure all production sites have a 2-pillar SMETA ethical audit according to their risk rating carried out by a Sainsbury’s approved audit body and other Sainsbury’s requirements:
High risk: every 12 months
Medium risk: every 24 months
Low risk: at TM discretion
New site: within 12 months prior to being registered on Evolve
"Suppliers must directly commission any audit. We also accept Social Accountability International (SA8000) and SIZA audits." The policy included definitions of high, medium and low risk, based on previous compliance with the policy.

The policy also stated that the company would implement corrective action plans for non-compliance, and outlined time frames within which any non-compliance or whistleblower complaint had to be referred to the company. No information about audit costs could be found, however Sainsbury's 2016 questionnaire stated that these would be borne by the supplier.

Although Sainsbury's had a remediation strategy, no results could be found from inspections, and for low risk suppliers there was no specific audit schedule. It had a scheduled and transparent audit plan. This 'Supplier Policy on Ethical Trading' was referred to in its questionnaire response as its Food Audit. The document itself referred to Food/ Drink/ Household/ Health & Beauty. It still appeared to be limited to the Sainsbury's supermarket business rather than including Argos or Habitat. However, the Sainsbury’s Argos Site standard was also attached. This stated that "each site must complete a SMETA audit for Sainsbury’s every 12months". It outlined the process of Corrective Action Plans, and that verifying action on issues raised "must be verified by the 3rd party audit company... at the suppliers cost."

As the company had a schedule and remediation policy, but disclosed no audit results and did not cover audit costs, it was considered to have a rudimentary approach to auditing and reporting.

Difficult issues (rudimentary)
Sainsbury's Supplier Policy on Ethical Trade stated "We are committed to providing guidance, training and support to suppliers where needed and to ensuring workers in our supply chain are aware of the provisions of the Base Code and our commitment to ethical trade." It also stated “We recognise the contribution that stable business relationships make to the observance of good labour practices and endeavour to establish long-term and productive relationships with our suppliers.” It also stated that labour agencies should be audited by suppliers at least annually for compliance with national laws, and recommended using a third-party auditor to do this.

Sainsbury's was considered to have a rudimentary approach to difficult issues.

As Sainsbury's had a rudimentary approach to all four sections it received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for its Supply Chain Management.


2019 Supplier Policy on Ethical Trade – Sainsbury’s Brand (22 October 2019)

In October 2019 Ethical Consumer searched Sainsbury's consumer website and found a number of tobacco products on sale. The company therefore lost a whole mark in the Irresponsible Marketing category.


Sainsbury's website (22 October 2019)

In April 2018, Ethical Consumer viewed a ruling on the Advertising Standards Agency website regarding J Sainsbury PLC, from March 2018. The ruling concerned Sainsbury's new Fairly Traded logo. The company was said to have used the logo on a box of tea, with a link below it to a webpage for more information on the new standard. 'A number of other products listed on the page were “Fairtrade” tea products, and the images showed that the packaging for those products included the Fairtrade logo.' Sainsbury's had therefore been accused of suggesting a misleading connection between its accreditation and the Fairtrade scheme. This was upheld by the ASA. The company therefore lost half a mark under Irresponsible Marketing.


ASA Ruling on J Sainsbury plc (7 March 2018)

The Advertisng Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint lodged against Sainsburys Bank in October 2016. The bank was banned from showing a TV ad which was deemed "irresponsible because it implied that the best way to finance property renovation was by getting a credit card."
The ASA ruled that, "The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Sainsbury’s Bank to ensure that their advertising did not present consumer credit products in a socially irresponsible way."
The company therefore lost half a mark under Irresponsible Marketing.

Reference: (October 201

In July 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Sainsbury's website for the company's conflict minerals policy. Sainsbury's owned Home Retail Group which included Argos, which was a major retailer of electronic devices including own brand products. It had not published a conflict minerals policy. A questionnaire response from the company in December 2019 said that the company was "reviewing this".

Conflict minerals are minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, notably in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The minerals in question are Tantalum, Tin, Tungsten and Gold (3TG for short) and are key components of electronic devices, from mobile phones to televisions.

Ethical Consumer expected all companies manufacturing electronics to have a policy on the sourcing of conflict minerals. Such a policy would articulate the company's commitment to conflict-free sourcing of 3TG minerals and a commitment to continue ensuring due diligence on the issue. The policy should also state that it intended to continue sourcing from the DRC region in order to avoid an embargo and that the company had membership of, or gave financial support to, organisations developing the conflict-free industry in the region.

Due to the fact the company had no policy it received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for its policy on conflict minerals and lost a whole mark under the Habitats and Resources and Human Rights categories.


Sainsbury's corporate website (22 October 2019)

In October 2019, Ethical Consumer viewed Argos' website and found that the company sold diamonds and gold. The website did not appear to have any information on sourcing, and the About Us link led to the Sainsbury's website,

The Sainsbury's 2018 Sustainability update stated under an Argos heading, "As we progress with integration, we will review sustainability and ethical sourcing practices in our jewellery and packaging supply chains."

Sainsbury's website was therefore searched. It had a Modern Slavery section and the company's Modern Slavery Statement 2018/19 was downloaded. Neither mentioned jewellery, gold or diamonds. When searched, neither Sainsbury's nor Argos were found listed as members on the Responsible Jewellery Council website.

According to the No Dirty Gold Campaign, which aimed to end irresponsible mining practices, Argos had signed the Golden Rules and pledged to commit to responsible sourcing of gold. However, no supporting statement from Argos appeared on the No Dirty Gold website, nor on its own website or Sainsbury's website.
The January/February 2011 issue of Ethical Consumer highlighted the role of diamonds in fuelling conflict in Africa.
The Channel Four Dispatches programme “The Real Price of Gold”, which was broadcast on 27th June 2011 and in which Ethical Consumer participated, highlighted some of the problems in gold supply chains around the world, including environmental destruction, child labour and the human rights impacts of pollution. The publication “Golden Rules: Making the case for responsible mining”, published by Earthworks and Oxfam America, also highlighted issues of forced displacement of local communities as a result of gold mining.
Argos therefore lost half a mark in the Pollution and Toxics category due to its lack of commitment to responsible gold mining, and a full mark in the Human Rights category as a result of the impacts of gold and diamonds.

Reference: (4 January 2019)

In June 2020 Oxfam released an update to its 2019 report on
supermarkets. The report scored 16 of the biggest supermarkets in Europe
and the US on how they tackled critical issues affecting the people
working in their food supply chains. The specific areas covered were:
transparency and accountability; respect for workers' rights; fair
treatment of farmers; and fair treatment of women.

None of the supermarkets was found to be doing enough to ensure basic
human rights in their supply chains. The report observed that some
workers went to work and produced food all day, but went home hungry.
All the companies were given marks out of 100 in each of the above
categories. The lowest mark was 3% and the highest 46%.

Sainsbury’s scored 44% overall – up from 27% in 2019 – broken down as follows:

transparency 42%

workers' rights 54%

farmers rights 50%

womens' rights 29%

All companies lost half a mark under Human Rights for secondary criticism.


Behind the Barcode update (2020)

In January 2020, Ethical Consumer searched the Sainsbury's website for information on the company's cotton sourcing policy. A number of cotton products on sale were not certified organic or Fairtrade. Sainsbury's was said to be a member of the Better Cotton Initiative.

A press release dated to August 2017 and titled 'Making sustainable cotton part of our fabric' stated: 'Sainsbury’s has joined other leading fashion brands in committing to using 100% sustainable cotton by 2025.' The company was said to have signed up to the Sustainable Cotton Communique´. A press release on the Fairtrade website stated that the communiqué defined 'sustainable' as, 'Organic, Fairtrade, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton Made in Africa and recycled cotton certified to an independently verifiable standard such as the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) or the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS)'.

The Sainsbury's 2019 Values Update stated, "68% of our cotton certified to international sustainability standards, up from 61 per cent in 2017/18, working with the Better Cotton Initiative (2020 target: 100 per cent)"

Not all of Sainsbury's cotton was certified. It lost marks under the following categories: Workers Rights, Pollution & Toxics, Controversial Technology:

According to Anti-Slavery international (ASI) website viewed by Ethical Consumer in August 2018, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were two of the world’s largest exporters of cotton, and every year their governments forcibly mobilised over one million citizens to grow and harvest cotton. Due to the high proportion of cotton likely to have come from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the prevalence of forced labour in its production, the company lost half a mark in the Workers Rights category.

The Organic Trade Association website,, stated in July 2018 that cotton covered roughly 2.78% of global arable land, but accounted for 12.34% of all insecticide sales and 3.94% of herbicide sales. Due to the impacts of the widespread use of pesticides in cotton production worldwide the company also lost half a mark in the Pollution & Toxics category.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit pro biotech organisation, genetically modified cotton accounted for 80% of cotton grown in 2017. 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 some of the company's cotton products contained some GM material. As a result it lost half a mark under the Controversial Technology category.


Values update 2019 (2 January 2020)

In January 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Sainsbury's website and found a statement regarding cocoa sourcing, on a page titled 'Setting sustainable sourcing standards', but no detail of the standards it referred to:
"We’ve been working with industry standards and compliance company SAI Global on an overarching sustainability standard as well as standards for specific raw materials such as cocoa and timber."

Sainsbury's completed an Ethical Consumer questionnaire in December 2019. The company was asked about its policy on cocoa sourcing. The company responded with the following:
“In our Sustainability Plan we have committed to sourcing all of our key materials to an independent sustainability standard by 2020. We have been working hard on this and all of our core block chocolate and our Taste the Difference ranges are certified Fairtrade or UTZ."
It did not supply specific commitments to addressing child labour, child slavery and other workers' rights issues within its cocoa supply chain, but did provide a link to its Modern Slavery Statement.

Not all Sainsbury's cocoa products were certified. As the issue of child and slave labour within the cocoa supply chain had been raised as an issue since before 2000 Ethical Consumer would expect the company to be actively sourcing fair and sustainable cocoa only. The company therefore received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for its cocoa supply chain management and lost half a mark under Workers' Rights.


Questionnaire response (2 January 2020)

In January 2020, Ethical Consumer searched the Sainsbury's website for information about the company's timber sourcing policy. A link to the company's CDP Forest Disclosure for 2017 was found on its Reports, Policies and Standards 2017 page. The company's 'Values Update 2019' was also viewed, as well as a questionnaire response recieved in December 2019.

Ethical Consumer's timber sourcing ranking required companies scoring a 'best' to cover six of the below issues:
1. Having a timber sourcing policy that covers all timber and timber-derived products
2. the exclusion of illegal timber or that sourced from unknown sources and...
3. ...a discussion on how a company ensures/ implements this
4. clear targets for sourcing timber from sustainably managed sources
5. a discussion of a good minimum standard
6. preference given to certified sources
7. a discussion about tropical hardwoods (THW) and the percentage of THW sourced that are FSC certified
8. involvement with a multi-stakeholder initiative or bridging programme such as the World Wildlife Fund- Global Forest Trade Network
9. use of reclaimed or recycled wood/ paper
10. a high total percentage (50%+) of FSC certified timber sourced by the company.

The Values Update 2019 stated, "97 per cent of timber in our products certified to international sustainability standards, improving on ... 95 per cent respectively in 2017/18 (2020 targets: 100 per cent)". It also stated that "This year we reviewed and refreshed the governance of our Sustainability Plan to align our approach across the Group".
The questionnaire response stated:
"Sainsbury’s - 100% of our own brand timber and paper products will be derived from sustainable sources by 2020
Argos and Habitat - 100% of our own brand timber and paper products will be derived from sustainable sources by 2023".
"Timber must not be harvested illegally in contravention of legislation in the country of harvest".
"The risk of illegal timber entering the supply chain is validated by our Timber Sourcing Assessment Process. This assessment process is carried out by a Sainsbury’s nominated 3rd party."

The CDP Forest Disclosure stated that the company had a 'sourcing hierarchy', giving preference to post-consumer recycled or FSC certified material, followed by PEFC certified material.

The company previously stated that it had been a member of the WWF's Global Forest Trade Network since 1995.

The company was considered to cover eight of the ten issues listed above and therefore received Ethical Consumer best rating for its timber sourcing.


Questionnaire response (2 January 2020)