M&S has been working with its suppliers to help them become more efficient

M&S has been working with its suppliers to help them become more efficient

UK retailer Marks & Spencer said it has plans in place to launch a programme that aims to improve transparency in its clothing supply chain.

The retail group yesterday (4 June) published its 2015 Plan A Report, the first since it launched the third stage of its Plan A sustainability strategy - Plan A 2020.

The report outlined a number of achievements made over the last 12 months, including around 652,000 workers in M&S's clothing supply chain having received training on subjects such as financial literacy and health information and services.

M&S said it has been working with its suppliers to help them become more efficient, reduce their environmental footprints, and provide better working conditions for their employees. As a result, 102 of its largest clothing factories have adopted energy efficiency measures, making estimated savings of 10%.

Supply chain and transparency
One if its newest aims, however, is to consult with customers and stakeholders on what they consider to be important about how and where M&S sources and produces its products. The retailer is hoping to respond by improving the information available by 2020.

M&S said it last year collated results from a small-scale online survey of sustainability specialists, a review of best practice by Forum for the Future, and a summary of findings from existing customers and public market research. This year, it commissioned further research with GlobeScan, gathering the views of 172 sustainability specialists globally.

The conclusion of the research to date has revealed that supply chains were the main area of interest for its customers. As a result, from next year, M&S said it aims to conduct further research with its customers and launch a programme to improve transparency.

In a further move to increase transparency in its supply chain, M&S is looking to publish a list of its clothing suppliers - a goal the retailer said it has not yet started, but is aiming to publish by 2016.

In December last year, M&S launched its Global Sourcing Principles; a set of standards expected from its contracted suppliers to ensure their facilities meet acceptable standards and are continually improving.

The retailer said it aims to launch an updated set of principles, strengthened to include human rights, gender equality, community, and fairness, a progress update on which will be provided annually.

"We’ve been working with our suppliers on many of these for some time, but this is the first time we’ve included them in our Global Sourcing Principles," the retailer noted. "This has replaced our original Global Sourcing Principles in our Terms of Trade. Next year we will report on how we’re supporting our suppliers to meet these standards."

Mike Barry, director of Plan A, admitted that while M&S reports transparently on its progress, that sometimes its "falls short" because targets are "unrealistic", or "compromised by changes in our business".

He explained: "These failures don’t worry us too much, because they’re few and far between, the inevitable consequences of running a change programme that impacts on every action we take and every resource we use. We’re more concerned about our failure to meet commitments that are crucial to our long-term sustainable goals."

Sustainable practices
M&S also outlined a number of new sustainable innovations, including its Footglove Earth shoes made from recycled and sustainably sourced materials. It has also started using mixed recycled fibres collected through its Shwopping clothes recycling scheme to make Topaz filling for use in mattresses.

In 2008, M&S launched its Shwopping campaign as a Plan A commitment. This has since launched in the Czech Republic and Hong Kong. The retailer has admitted, however, that it is behind on its pledge of recycling 20m items each year by 2020, and has subsequently lowered the target to a run-rate of 50m by 2020.

This year, UK and Republic of Ireland customers donated over 2.8m garments, down on last year's 4m.

With this in mind, M&S has embarked on a two-year project – Redress - with the University of Cambridge, Institute for Manufacturing, to investigate opportunities to increase the volume and value of garment recovery. A steering group has been set up and two quarterly reviews have been completed. The results of this project are expected to be published by 2016.

Also in the progress report, M&S said 64% of its products now have a Plan A attribute - an eco or ethical quality above the market norm. The figure puts M&S ahead of its target to have 50% by 2015 and on track for all products to have an attribute by 2020.

In addition, M&S said it has raised GBP15m (US$23m) for Oxfam through clothes recycling since 2008, and that 32%, almost a third, of its cotton is now grown to Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) standards. This is up from 28% last year and means M&S hit its 2015 target of 25%. The retailer said it will now start working towards a revised 2020 aim of 70%.

And, more than a quarter, or 26%, of the leather used to make M&S products now meets the industry leading Independent Leather Working Group Standard; five years ahead of target.

Click here to view the full report.