Being a fair partner to the near two million workers in its supply chain is a key pillar of Marks & Spencer’s eco and ethical programme, Plan A. The plan, a commitment to change 180 things and make M&S the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015, includes a number of initiatives on ethical and fair trading. In addition to an extensive ethical compliance monitoring programme and a network of compliance managers across all our major sourcing locations, Plan A includes commitments to tackle the root cause of labour problems, working conditions and low wages in developing countries.
Last year M&S began a funding a programme to tackle the complex issue of low wages in Bangladesh by looking to find a sustainable solution to improve wages for all workers in three factories.
Called ‘Ethical Model Factories’ the objective was to set up factories that could demonstrate best practice for compliance, illustrate solutions to difficult ethical issues and consult with its workforce giving equal rights and better pay and conditions. To achieve this three training programmes were set up: worker rights training; HR systems and industrial relations management training for middle management; and HR personnel, and productivity training for industrial engineers and production line management.
M&S partnered with local organisations including GTZ, a German government agency, the Bangladesh Institute of Management and GSD (General Sweing Data) to deliver the training.
In less than six months M&S had trained over 6,000 workers on employee rights – a total of 52,000 hours of training. In addition 130 supervisors and middle managers had received 14 hours of training each on HR policies and procedures, industrial relations and behavioural skills.
The results were significant.
Workers now know their rights and responsibilities and particularly know how to articulate issues to management. Management can now deal with them more effectively and efficiently due to the training they had received.
The number of grievances resolved has increased dramatically. There has been an 85 per cent reduction in absenteeism and a 65 per cent reduction in staff turnover.
With better planning and production techniques in place, productivity and efficiency has increased significantly which has led to an increase in the workers’ wages. Salaries are up at all three factories between eight and 42 per cent.
So successful has the project been that M&S is now rolling out the learnings across all its factories in Bangladesh and will replicate the project in India and Sri Lanka. Whist the exact model might not be appropriate in every country, or indeed every factory, M&S is taking the idea of training to develop the capacity of the worker and factory management to go beyond the current auditing programme.
Plan A, which was extended in March this year, includes the commitment to:
‘Work with our suppliers and partners to provide a training programme for 500,000 workers by 2015. This will cover the employees’ roles and responsibilities and rights, basic health care and where possible numeracy and literacy’