Oxfam report reveals poor M&S working conditions

An Oxfam report initiated by Marks & Spencer (M&S) has revealed concerns about human rights and working conditions in the department store’s supply chain.

The report is based on interviews with nearly 400 workers at the retailer’s food manufacturing sites in the UK, and leather footwear factories in India, which supply both the M&S and other well-known retailers.

The research found some examples of good practice, but concerns were raised over in-work poverty, long-term damage to health, inadequate sick pay, discrimination, and poor worker representation.

These issues are common across the global food and fashion industry.

A lot of the issues shared by workers with Oxfam researchers both in the UK and India had not been raised with management for fear of potential repercussions.

Oxfam said that 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 study 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.”

“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,” said Rachel Wilshaw, workers’ rights senior manager, Oxfam.

Wilshaw added: “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.”

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.

She added: “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.”

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