Responding department: Plan A: Sustainability
Does your company have a publicly available commitment to respect human rights?
In 2016 we published our first Human Rights Report, which transparently sets out our approach to human rights.
Our commitment to human rights is reinforced in our Human Rights Policy and our Code of Ethics and Behaviours where we confirm that we will not tolerate, nor will we condone, abuse of human rights within any part of our business or supply chains, and we will take seriously any allegations that human rights are not properly respected
Our Human Rights Policy makes clear our commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and is informed by the International Bill of Human Rights (as enacted in national laws around the world), the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the Children's Rights and Business Principles. It is also informed by the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles and the UN Global Compact, to which we are signatories.
How are human rights governed in your company?
Our governance structure for human rights is set out in full in our Human Rights Report (chapter three – ensuring robust governance) and is summarised below.
We have a small Human Rights Director Steering Group which meets bi-weekly and is a decision-making body supporting a consistent approach to respecting human rights across our business and extended supply chain. This group reports on progress on human rights to our Plan A 2020 Executive Committee which meets every two months and is chaired by our Chief Executive Officer. Our Human Rights Policy, Strategy and Report is formally approved by Board, and at an least annual update is provided to the main Board on our human rights progress. In addition, our independent Sustainable Retail Advisory Board meets every six months, and topics discussed include human rights.
How are human rights managed within your company?
Again, our Human Rights Report ([link]) (p12 – how we defined our salient issues, chapter two – our salient issues, and chapter three – ensuring robust governance) gives the fullest explanation of how human rights is managed in our business. This is summarised below, but for a fuller description, please visit our report.
Each business area (for example Food, Clothing, HR, Procurement, Logistics, Marketing) has appointed a practitioner responsible for human rights issues to be part of our Human Rights Practitioner Committee which currently meets monthly, and is responsible for driving a consistent cross-business approach to understanding our greatest human rights risks, conducting due diligence, integrating responses into our policies and internal systems, tracking our actions, and communicating with our stakeholders about how we address impacts.
Brand integrity, which includes human rights considerations, forms part of all employees’ performance targets, from director to customer assistant. We have also integrated responsible buying into the training programme of all employees who deal directly with product suppliers and to key practitioners who have direct responsibility for human rights. Focused
and relevant business-wide training is an area we have identified needs further attention in the next phase of our human rights strategy. One of our most important assets in human rights management is our local ethical expert teams, who regularly meet with workers, and talk with local NGOs, trade unions, government offices and academics, understanding how to respond to human rights issues in the local context, as well as feeding their knowledge into our overall approach,
Our Human Rights Report ([link]) describes the risk assessment process we undertook to define our salient human rights issues, which are set out below, as well as the approach we have in place for each issue, and the methods we use to track their prevalence.
Our human rights management approach is continuously improving, and our report sets our areas for future focus, including improving the alignment and embeddedness of our approach across our operations, strengthening governance and raising awareness levels internally, and improving our grievance mechanisms.
What is the company’s approach to the engagement of stakeholders (including workers, and local communities impacted by the company’s activities), on human rights issues?
A full description of how we interact with stakeholders can be found in our Human Rights Report ([link]), p51 (‘Working with stakeholders’). This is summarised below.
For our approach to human rights to be successful, it is critical that we regularly interact with affected rights-holders, and expert stakeholders. To be successful this needs to be a continual process which fosters an open and candid discussion, without fear of retribution. We group our human rights stakeholders into three groups: directly affected stakeholders; advocates; and other human rights experts.
Directly affected stakeholders include employees, supply chain workers and their representatives through trade unions, and community leaders. We interact directly with our employees in many ways, including via Business Involvement Groups and regular staff surveys. In the supply chains, all ethical assessments include direct worker interviews, and in the past two years, we have supplemented this by piloting the use of mobile technology to survey workers directly. Our experience is that the most meaningful understanding of salient issues comes from more in-depth interactions with affected rights holders, and our report ([link]) lists several case studies for this approach.
Advocates represents informed proxies of directly affected stakeholders, and includes certain NGOs and academics. This group of stakeholders is crucial in bridging this gap where stakeholders may be wary of speaking directly with us, as well as in as navigating sensitive and deep-rooted cultural norms which may have adverse human rights impacts. Human rights experts may be broad experts, or be an expert on a particular salient issue. We regularly meet with stakeholders who form part of this group – this ranges from lower levels of interactions, to in-depth engagements. For example, Oxfam has been an indispensable stakeholder to M&S over a number of years. Case studies for these groups can be found in our report ([link]).
In addition to the three specific groups above, we have wider programme of stakeholder engagement on environmental and social sustainability, including an annual briefing event for approximately 300 stakeholders, including a question and answer session with Directors; these 300 stakeholders will include a subset of human rights stakeholders. In addition, our company AGM can represent a forum for shareholders to pose questions about our human rights impacts.
Priority human rights issues: What are some of the priority human rights issues for your company?
Through a risk assessment process, we have identified seven salient human rights issues which we will focus on, these are: discrimination, forced labour, freedom of association, health and safety, living wages, water and sanitation and working hours. In addition we are closely watching four further issues, these are: child labour, land rights, secure work and privacy. Our Human Rights Report ([link]) describes the approach we are taking to each of these issues: how we have identified areas of focus for each salient issues (for example, priority geographies); the relevant policies in place; examples of due diligence and collaboration; and future steps. We are transparent in recognising where we need to increase our understanding of risks, impacts and responses.
How are human rights commitments and information about how the company addresses its human rights impacts communicated, internally and externally?
We report and communicate on human rights in a number of ways, including, but not limited to:
- Our website ([link]), which was significantly updated in 2016 to increase our level of transparency on human rights and other social and environmental issues;
- Our Human Rights Report ([link]), which we published for the first time in 2016;
- Our Modern Slavery statement ([link]);
- Our annual ‘Plan A’ Report ([link]); and
- Our annual stakeholder briefing on our social and environmental progress.
We welcome feedback on the above information sources.
What provisions does your company have in place to ensure that grievances from workers and affected communities or individuals are heard, and can you provide examples of remedies provided?
Recognising the importance of grievances and access to remedy, we have introduced a new commitment to strengthen the grievance mechanisms we have in place to remedy adverse human rights impacts, and will update on this in due course.
All our employees are covered by M&S’ own internal grievance channels and all our suppliers covered by our Global Sourcing Principles (GSP) which require them to have their own grievance mechanisms in place.
We currently receive grievances through a variety of avenues: by phone, email, and letter or social media; via multi-stakeholder organisations; directly from workers/employees or their representatives; contact to our press office or customer service department. Where we use audit, the third party audit companies leave confidential phone number cards with worker and union representatives to allow grievances to be raised after the audit has taken place if the environment does not allow this in situ.
In dealing with grievances, we use a framework which is applied depending on the nature of the issue and local circumstances, and includes an initial assessment of the complaint; an investigation which may involve an independent third party; consultation and mediation; and resolution. In executing our grievance framework, our primary concern will always be to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of any person who has raised the grievance. As a business we are inherently committed to no retaliation against our employees for raising human rights concerns.
A full description of our approach to grievances can be found in our Human Rights Report ([link]), p54, including two grievance case studies.
Which external and collaborative human rights initiatives does your company participate in, and what is the nature of your involvement?
We are committed to collaborative responses to salient issues: the size and complexity of most sustainability and societal issues mean they cannot be addressed by any one solution or any one organisation. It’s not enough for a few businesses to lead, we need concerted, collaborative effort involving businesses, investors, governments, NGOs and consumers to tackle the world’s most pressing issues by sparking fundamental shifts in mindset and behaviour.
We participate in a number of collaborative human rights initiatives, including, but not limited to:
• The Ethical Trading Initiative
• The UN Global Compact
• The Consumer Goods Forum
• The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety
In addition, we are members of a number of country or issue-specific initiatives, which are described against the relevant salient issue in our Human Rights Report ([link]).
Which are the key one, two or three elements of your approach to human rights that been developed or amended since June 2011? Please indicate if these actions were in response to the UN Guiding Principles.
- Formal endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights, including in our Human Rights Report ([link]) and Human Rights Policy ([link]), where we transparently disclose our approach and progress;
- Formation of an internal governance process for human rights, including a Human Rights Director Steering Group and Human Rights practitioner committee; and
- Identification of seven salient human rights issues which we will focus on, as well as a further four issues which we are also watching closely, and mapping our next steps for each.
What are some of the obstacles and challenges that your company encounters in implementing its human rights commitments?
Our main human rights challenges are in line with those experienced by other large businesses, and that is why we place such a high value on knowledge sharing within collaborative networks, as well as partnerships with civil society, as described above. Key challenges include: ensuring effective human rights due diligence given the breadth and depth of our business; the socially and economically deep-rooted and complex nature of many human rights issues; the varying approaches of different governments in ‘protecting’ human rights; and understanding how to track and demonstrate change on human rights issues. We are continuously seeking to understand best practice in these areas, and refine our approach, and the collaborations and forums we take part in are an important element in doing so.