Written evidence submitted by Marks & Spencer


About Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer (M&S) is one of the UK’s leading retailers. In the clothing market, we have a circa 7% overall market share by value and are the second largest retailer in the market. Our product supply chains are extensive and global, with suppliers in more than 80 countries.


We welcome the opportunity to contribute written evidence to this inquiry. We take our commitment to improving sustainability in our clothing and homeware seriously, and have set out below some examples of how we do this. We operate rigorous quality management systems which have been developed with our suppliers, who are required to meet a range of quality, safety, environmental and social standards.


Our Plan A sustainability plan commits us as a business to three key objectives, which underpin our approach to the issues addressed in this inquiry:



Responses to questions posed in the call for evidence


  1. What progress has been made in reducing the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry since the Fixing Fashion report came out?

As a business, M&S has a longstanding commitment to reducing the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry. Originally launched in 2007, our Plan A sustainability plan is our way to help build a sustainable future by being a business that enables our customers to have a positive impact on wellbeing, communities and the planet through all that we do.


Since the Committee’s report two years ago, we have continued to make significant progress in reducing the environmental and social impact of our products.



We have also worked with the rest of the fashion industry on a number of initiatives:


  1. What impact has the pandemic had on fashion waste?

It is too early to assess this. However, it is worth noting that at M&S we have taken steps to ensure that none of our safe, unsold clothing has gone to waste. Unsold Spring/Summer 2020 M&S clothing has been placed into storage with the intention of selling in Spring/Summer 2021. All surplus stock is eventually sold or donated to charities, including Oxfam and Newlife.


  1. What impact has the pandemic had on the relationship between fashion retailers and suppliers?

The impact of COVID-19 across the clothing sector is completely unprecedented and has been felt acutely by both retailers and our suppliers. We are very proud to have strong long-term relationships with our clothing suppliers; in fact, we have worked with over 70% of our supply base for over seven years.


Most importantly, we are managing our supply so that we have a viable business on the other side of this. We have worked through a plan with our suppliers which is as follows:


  1. How could employment law and payment of the minimum wage be more effectively enforced within the UK fashion industry?

We do not have a UK supply base for our clothing business but have worked with the British Retail Consortium on their work on employment conditions within the UK fashion industry and support their position.


  1. What are the pros and cons of proposals to license factories or more strongly regulate purchasing practices?

As above (see question 4).


  1. What would be the most effective measures industry or Government could put in place to ensure that materials or products made with forced or prison camp labour are removed from the supply chain?

We have recently provided detailed evidence on this issue to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. A summary of that evidence is below.


We recognise that Modern Slavery is a growing global issue and we understand our responsibility to prevent, mitigate and remediate where necessary, the risks of human trafficking, forced, bonded and child labour and to respect human rights in our operations and our supply chain. Our commitment is very clear: we will always treat people in our business and supply chain fairly.


We know that tackling modern slavery and other human rights abuses requires an industry-wide approach, and we make sure we play our part to drive change across the industry as a whole. The industry-wide work which we have led or participated in includes:



  1. How can any stimulus after the Coronavirus crisis be used to promote a more sustainable fashion industry?

It is too early to assess this.


  1. Is the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan adequate to address the environmental impact of the UK fashion industry? How ambitious should its targets be in its next phase?

Fashion is a global industry, and so global initiatives (such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition) are most likely to provide the necessary collaborations and scale to address the global impact of the industry. However, UK initiatives can contribute to global change, and can address the domestic impact of the fashion industry.


Textiles 2030, the new voluntary agreement, builds on the learning and success of the SCAP and aims to engage the majority of UK fashion and textiles organisations in collaborative climate action. M&S was a member of the steering group which devised this new initiative and we believe a voluntary scheme can work well.


Textiles 2030 is ambitious but achievable and is intentionally based on more than just metrics. Its targets are:



As a member of Textiles 2030, we support these commitments and are working towards achieving them in our own business. Our response to question 1 details some of the steps which we have taken towards achieving them.


  1. What actions could Government take to improve the collection of fashion waste?

At M&S we have a longstanding commitment to collecting fashion waste through our Shwopping scheme. Shwopping enables customers to bring an unwanted item of clothing into an M&S store (even if it’s not from M&S) each time they come to buy something new. Customers can put their unwanted items into a ‘Shwop Drop’ box (by the tills in most M&S stores). All clothing goes to our partners Oxfam and they'll either resell it in one of their shops or on the Oxfam Online Shop, sell it to be reused in different countries around the world, or recycle the fibres to make new material. Absolutely nothing goes to landfill and Oxfam use the money raised to help end extreme poverty around the world.


However, greater support is needed to enable fashion waste which has been collected to be recycled or reused in this country, as it is currently very costly to do so. We support the BRC’s suggestions for ways in which this could be improved:


In addition, there needs to be more investment in innovation for recycling technologies in order to enable UK businesses to responsibly dispose of waste and design more circular ranges. Currently, the UK provision and capacity in this regard is poor.


  1. What actions could the Government take to incentivise the use of recycled or reused fibres and materials in the UK fashion industry?

We are encouraged that the Government has backed Textiles 2030, and believe this voluntary initiative could make a significant difference in the UK fashion industry.


In addition, more support is needed for innovation in the UK to make better use of collected textiles that cannot be reused.


At M&S, we are doing all we can to increase the amount of textiles which we recycle, but we have encountered a number of barriers which have limited our ability to do more. We have worked with Oxfam for over 12 years, partnering with them on their Wastesaver operation located in Batley, West Yorkshire. We have undertaken a number of innovative sustainability projects with them, including:



However, we have not been able to scale up these projects in a cost-effective way due to the highly manual task of textile sortation and limitation in fibre to fibre recycling technologies for a wide range of materials. We would like to be able to do this, and know this goal is shared by Oxfam and the British Fashion Council.


We would encourage the Government to provide financial incentives to support:


  1. How could an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme for textiles be designed to incentivise improvements in the sustainability of garments on sale in the UK?

We welcome the Government’s support for the voluntary scheme Textiles 2030, which we have helped to develop. This is a new initiative and it would be helpful to allow time for this scheme to become embedded within the fashion industry’s working practices before further action is taken. Once it is more established then potentially it could be useful to undertake further work to determine what additional measures could be taken to incentivise improvements in the sustainability of garments on sale in the UK


If, at a later stage, an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Scheme were to be introduced, we would echo the principles which the BRC has laid out in its response to this inquiry:



November 2020