In June 2021 Ethical Consumer searched the M&S website for a cotton sourcing policy. The document 'Responsible Cotton Sourcing Policy dated November 2020 was viewed.

According to Anti-Slavery international (ASI) website viewed by Ethical Consumer in June 2021, 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. M&S stated "M&S requires that no cotton should be knowingly sourced from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan & Xinjiang regions". This was considered a positive policy.

According to the 2020 Sustainable Cotton Ranking published by Pesticide Action Network UK, Solidaridad and WWF, conventional cotton production involved the overuse and misuse of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, which has significant impacts on ecosystems, and the health of farmers and their communities. Due to these impacts in cotton production worldwide this issue is covered by the Pollution & Toxics rating.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit pro biotech organisation, “Biotech cotton was planted to 25.7 million hectares, covering 79% of the global area of cotton in 2019.” 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.
M&S stated that 100% of its cotton was BCI certified, Fair Trade, organic or recycled. However, BCI cotton was not necessarily GM free. As a result the company lost half a mark under the Controversial Technology category.

Overall the company received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for its cotton sourcing policy.

Reference:

corporate.marksandspencer.com (28 June 2021)

In June 2021 Ethical Consumer searched the M&S website for a policy on genetically modified ingredients and the use of genetically engineered animal feed. The most recent company document was 'MARKS AND SPENCER NON GM FOODS POLICY' dated October 2015. A questionnaire response received from the company in June 2017 was also viewed.

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". 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.”

The policy prohibited the use of GM ingredients in food, but did not prohibit GMO in animal feed.

Ethical Consumer noted that the company sold meat or dairy not labelled organic, therefore it was likely to be from animals fed a genetically modified diet. In June 2017 the British government website www.food.gov.uk stated that the EU animal feed industry imported 70% of its maize, soya and rapeseed requirements; that "almost all" of the soya from the major producers Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and the USA was genetically modified and that "much of" the maize imported from the USA was genetically modified.

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:

corporate.marksandspencer.com (28 June 2021)

According to the organisation's website www.eurocommerce.eu, viewed by Ethical Consumer in June 2021, M&S was a member of Eurocommerce. 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 - February 2021 (February 2021)

In June 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed M&S's latest annual report (2021).

It stated that the company's two highest paid Executive Directors received over £1 million in total compensation in 2020/21. The highest paid, Eoin Tonge, received £1,949,000.

Ethical Consumer deemed any annual amount over £1million to be excessive. The company therefore lost half a mark under Anti-Social Finance.

Reference:

Annual Report 2021 (2021)

In June 2021 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)

However M&S contacted Ethical Consumer in July 2019, stating that the subsidiaries in Hong Kong and Singapore were for the purposes of the company's stores in these jurisdictions.

M&S also emailed the following to Ethical Consumer in August 2019: "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)."

It continued "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 M&S had provided detailed information about its tax policy and provided narrative explanations for high risk subsidiaries, and did not appear to face secondary criticisms for its approach to tax, the company was not marked down under Tax Conduct for likely use of tax avoidance strategies.

Reference:

Annual Report 2021 (2021)