In June 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed the Marks & Spencer Group plc website for information on how the company managed workers' rights in its supply chain. The following documents were consulted: Global Sourcing Policy, Ethical Trade Standard, and various pages on the company website.

1. Supply chain policy (reasonable)

Ethical Consumer looked for the following commitments: no use of forced labour, permission of freedom of association, payment of a living wage, the restriction of working hours to 48 hours plus 12 overtime (without exception), no use of a child labour (under 15 or 14 if ILO exempt), no discrimination by race, sex or for any other reason.

The policy on forced labour was adequate, as it prohibited all forced labour.

The policy required suppliers to respect employees' rights to freedom of association.

The policy on wages was considered to be inadequate, as it required suppliers to pay only the national minimum wages set by law rather than a living wage. It stated "Suppliers should work towards paying workers a fair living wage."

The policy on working hours allowed a working week of over 60 hours in exceptional circumstances.

The exceptional circumstances listed were:
- this is allowed by national law;
- this is allowed by a collective agreement freely negotiated with a workers’ organisation representing a significant portion of theworkforce;
- appropriate safeguards are taken to protect the workers’ health and safety;
- and the employer can demonstrate that exceptional circumstances apply such as seasonal work, accidents or emergencies.

M&S required "any" of the above criteria to be met, whereas ETI required all of the above to be met, so this was considered inadequate.

The policy required suppliers to to eliminate all child labour defined the age of a child as 15.

The policy prohibited suppliers from all discrimination by race, sex etc

The code did not apply to the whole supply chain, including some second tier suppliers. It stated "These principles set out what is required and expected from our contracted suppliers – i.e. those with whom we have a direct contract for goods or services".

Overall M&S was considered to have a reasonable supply chain policy.

2. Stakeholder Engagement (rudimentary)
Ethical Consumer deemed it necessary for companies to demonstrate stakeholder engagement, such as through membership of the Ethical Trade Initiative, Fair Labour Association or Social Accountability International. Companies were also expected to engage with Trade Unions, NGOs and/or not-for-profit organisations which could systematically verify the company's supply chain audits, and for workers to have access to an anonymous complaints system, free of charge and in their own language.

M&S was a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative.

Ethical Consumer could find no evidence that M&S was engaged with organisations or trade unions which had a systematic input into the verification of labour standard audits.

The company's Modern Slavery Statement stated that it required suppliers to establish a whistleblowing mechanism. However it appeared that M&S also provided a whistleblowing hotline that was anonymous, accessible online and via telephone, and available in multiple languages:

Overall M&S was considered to have a rudimentary approach to stakeholder engagement.

Auditing and Reporting (poor)
Ethical Consumer deemed it necessary for companies to have an auditing and reporting system. Results of audits should be publicly reported and quantitatively analysed. The company should have a scheduled and transparent audit plan that applies to their whole supply chain, including some second tier suppliers. The company should also have a staged policy for non-compliance. The costs of the audit should be borne by the company.

The company disclosed the results of of audits in its Food Direct Suppliers and 'A List sites', but these were divided by continent and did not specifically state what non-compliance/violations had occurred, instead stating "improvement required". It stated the main non-compliance issues overall, the primary concern being 'health and safety'. Similar analysis was provided for the company's clothing and home direct suppliers.

The company was not considered to have a clear audit schedule for all of its suppliers e.g. 75% of factories in Vietnam by June 2022. M&S stated "Audit frequencies for existing sites are assigned by M&S and can range between every 2 and 4 years depending on the nature of the supplier and location. [...] Certain suppliers (e.g. suppliers of dairy products, wine, produce, and hardware) are risk assessed for audit requirements. [...] We may in certain circumstances consider accepting SA 8000 and Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) audits (if, for instance, they have been conducted within the last year) and the full reports are made available to us".

It did not appear that M&S audited the supply chain in significant depth beyond direct suppliers.

The company did indicate that it favoured a corrective approach to instances on non-compliance.

It was unclear whether M&S covered the costs of audits.

Overall M&S was considered to have a poor approach to auditing and reporting.

Difficult issues (good)
Ethical Consumer also deemed it necessary for companies to address other difficult issues in their supply chains. This would include ongoing training for agents, or rewards for suppliers meeting labour standards, or preference for long term suppliers. It would also include acknowledgement of audit fraud and unannounced audits, and measures taken to address the issue of living wages, particularly among outworkers, and illegal freedom of association.

The Global Sourcing Principles stated that where freedom of association is illegal suppliers must allow for alternative means.

The company's Ethical Trade Standard stated "M&S reserves the right to request or conduct unannounced audits".

M&S also had an interactive supplier map, which listed the names of its suppliers across the globe. This listed 1,308 factories including their name and location.

Overall M&S was considered to have a good approach to difficult issues.

Overall M&S received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for Supply Chain Management and lost a half mark in this category.

Reference: (27 June 2021)

In June 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed the M&S website for the company's conflict minerals policy. The company sold a range of electric lighting. It had not published a conflict minerals policy.

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 free minerals and lost a whole mark under the Habitats and Resources and Human Rights categories.

Reference: (27 June 2021)

In June 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed an article on the BBC website dated 22 August 2020 titled "Marks & Spencer 'racism' complainant receives 'more abuse'".

This stated that a customer alleged she was racially harassed by an M&S employee. She alleged the worker followed her into the car park and subjected her to racial abuse.

The company lost half a mark under Human Rights.


Marks & Spencer 'racism' complainant receives 'more abuse' (22 August 2020)

In June 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed the M&S store locator on the company website, which stated that the company had operations in the following countries: Egypt, Philippines, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

M&S also stated on its 'Supplier Management' webpage that its top countries by number of supplier sites included China, Cambodia and Bangladesh.

At the time of writing Ethical Consumer considered each country listed to be governed by an oppressive regime. The company therefore lost a whole mark in the Human Rights category.

Reference: (28 June 2021)

In October 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed the Marks and Spencer's cocoa policy on its website.

Companies are expected to have certified 100% of their chocolate products or to only source from outside of West Africa- where the issues of child labour are widely reported. If a company's cocoa is certified organic by the Soil Association, it is considered adequate by Ethical Consumer due to the certification providing a clause on workers' rights and child labour: “You must not use forced or involuntary labour or child labour that interferes with their education”.

If companies fail to certify 100% of their cocoa, they receive a worst rating for their cocoa supply chain management. As the workers' rights issues associated with the cocoa industry have been known for over 14 years, Ethical Consumer would expect companies to have acted.

It stated that it had a goal of continuing to source 100% of its cocoa from certified sustainable sources and that it had first acheived this in 2017.

It stated:
"We define verified sustainable sources as meeting any of the following standards:
- UTZ certified / Rainforest Alliance
- Fairtrade certified
- Third party verified HORIZONS cocoa
- Olam Livelihood charter"

At the time of writing Ethical Consumer accepted Fairtrade, UTZ/Rainforest Alliance or SOIL Association certified cocoa, or a clear statement that cocoa not certified by these organisations was not sourced from West Africa.

As Ethical Consumer did not accept "Third party verified HORIZONS cocoa" or "Olam Livelihoods charter" as adequate cocoa sourcing policies, and there was no clear statement clarifying that the cocoa was not sourced from West Africa, the company's cocoa sourcing policy was considered inadequate.

Marks and Spencer lost half a mark under Workers' Rights due to not adequately addressing the well-known issues of child labour in the cocoa supply chain.

Reference: (27 June 2021)

In June 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed an article on the BBC news website dated 17 November 2020, titled 'Indian factory workers supplying major brands allege routine exploitation.

The article stated "Indian workers in factories supplying the supermarket chains Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury's, and the fashion brand Ralph Lauren, told the BBC they are being subjected to exploitative conditions."

The article stated "Marks & Spencer said it "undertook an immediate unannounced audit" in the wake of the claims, the company said it "identified overtime working practices that are not acceptable", but disputed worker accounts about access to toilet breaks and water.""

M&S lost half a mark under Ethical Consumer's Workers' Rights category.


Indian factory workers supplying major brands allege routine exploitation (17 November 2020)

In December 2019 Ethical Consumer searched the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre website and viewed an article titled "Charity & police break up UK's largest modern slavery ring; victims worked in farms allegedly supplying UK retailers & supermarkets" and dated July 2019.

It stated that: "Investigators found some of its 400 victims worked for as little as 50p a day, working on farms, rubbish recycling centres and poultry factories. Gang members were convicted of modern slavery offences and money laundering on 5 July 2019. According to an investigation by the Sunday Times [restricted access], UK supermarkets including Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda were supplied by farms where men and women controlled by the gang worked. The supermarket chains and companies involved said they did not know the workers were being exploited, and several said they only became aware of the mistreatment after being contacted by journalists"

As a result Marks and Spencer lost half a mark under Workers' Rights.


Charity & police break up UK's largest modern slavery ring (July 2019)