A range of concerns among workers in Marks and Spencer’s food and footwear supply chains in both the UK and India is revealed in a report published today by Oxfam.
The independent research into human rights and working conditions, initiated and supported by M&S to help the company identify insights and lessons on these issues, is based on interviews with nearly 400 workers at food manufacturing sites in the UK and leather footwear factories in India supplying M&S and other well-known retailers.
While the research identified some examples of good practice, concerns raised include in-work poverty, long-term damage to health, inadequate sick pay, discrimination and poor worker representation – issues common across the global food and fashion industry.
Many of the issues shared by workers with the researchers, both in the UK and in India, had not been raised with management or via audits due to workers’ concerns about potential repercussions for speaking out and a lack of confidence that positive change would happen.
A key conclusion from the report was that there is a disconnect between the information that M&S managers receive about conditions in workplaces, based largely on third party ethical audits, and what workers report as their experience.
The report calls for retailers, including M&S, to move away from a reliance on compliance and audits and explore alternative methods of assuring standards such as better worker representation and reporting channels and business practices that drive positive change.
Rachel Wilshaw, Workers’ Rights Senior Manager for Oxfam, said: “This joint project gave Oxfam a rare opportunity to hear directly from workers in M&S’s supply chain. What they told us makes for uncomfortable reading. Workers described many problems that don’t normally come to light because of a lack of trust in reporting channels.”
Oxfam’s long-standing relationship with M&S has helped pave the way for this ‘beyond audit’ approach to enable the company to deepen its understanding, find workable solutions to challenging issues and galvanise sector-wide change.
Carmel McQuaid, Head of Sustainable Business at M&S said: “Setting standards in our own supply chains, however rigorous, can only set a baseline. To be serious about ensuring everyone who works with M&S is treated with decency and respect, we must hold a mirror up to make sure the reflection is true. And for this reason, we asked Oxfam to conduct a ‘gap analysis’ of our supply chain.
“The findings of the independent report have made clear that whilst audits remain a key tool for businesses, nothing beats hearing directly from workers. As part of our response, we have already taken action to scale our worker voice programmes and we commit to share our learning about what works and to help drive meaningful industry-wide change.”
Wilshaw said: “For M&S to open up its supply chain to Oxfam’s scrutiny shows it is willing to engage on difficult issues and open to improve. We need more companies to do the same. A global cross industry effort is needed with stronger government regulation and better worker representation. M&S can play an important role in bringing about effective change across the sector.”
The initiative builds on the longstanding partnership between Oxfam and M&S, which includes the clothes recycling initiative ‘Shwopping’, as well as ongoing dialogue about human rights issues in global supply chains, most recently through Oxfam’s Behind the Barcodes campaign.
For further information, please contact Sophie Bowell, Oxfam press office: +44 (0) 7810 814 980 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors
- Oxfam and M&S jointly selected the topics of focus – gender, worker voice and in-work poverty and the sector focus on UK food and Indian footwear.
- M&S identified the supplier sites to be visited based on their relevance to these issues, staff capacity and other considerations.
- Some sites chosen were dedicated to supplying M&S only, whilst for others M&S is a minor customer.
- It was agreed that Oxfam would withhold the names of the suppliers and protect the identity of workers to give interviewees reassurance and confidence to participate.
- Oxfam researchers spent a total of 15 days at five food factories in the UK, on site, and 13 days interviewing workers at six footwear sites in India, both on and off site, and used independent interpreters where appropriate. Between August 2018 and February 2019, we interviewed:
- 390 workers (49% of whom were female),
- 49 supplier managers,
- 17 M&S managers (UK and India based)
- 46 external experts in the sector
About Marks and Spencer and Oxfam Shwopping