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: www.safecall.co.uk/report.
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.
marksandspencer.com (27 June 2021)