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Marks & Spencer to be World’s Most Sustainable Retailer by 2015

Marks and Spencer, the British multinational retailer, plans to be the world’s most sustainable major retailer by 2015. To do so, the company has set out to accomplish 180 commitments to eco-friendly and ethical business practices through its “Plan A” project.

The company released a six-month progress report on Plan A last week noting positive progress with a new partnership to protect rainforest trees, a new health campaign for 14,000 Cambodian garment workers and financial literacy training for 10,000 Indian workers along the supply chain.

Mike Barry, M&S Plan A director, said, “We’re tackling some of the biggest issues in sustainable business such as youth unemployment, clothes going to landfill and engaging consumers in more sustainable living and are very proud of what we’ve delivered.”

M&S recognizes that to reach its 2015 goal, they’ll have to invest in sustainable practices at all points along the supply chain and since Plan A’s launch in 2007, the company has been working toward that effort.

One of the company’s latest accomplishments is a partnership with Cool Earth, a UK-based rainforest protection charity, which will save 5,000 acres of rainforest in Peru by funding and training indigenous communities to incorporate environmentally sustainable land-use policies.

To increase garment worker well-being in Cambodia, a country where many workers struggle with family planning and anemia, M&S joined Project Hope for a new health campaign that will educate garment workers on dealing with these and other health issues. The goal, M&S says, is to roll this kind of health care aid out to all company clothing suppliers to help deal with specific health needs in different countries.

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Laura Hawkesford, ethical trading manager at M&S said, “We’re already making a difference in Cambodia and it makes good sense to be a fair partner by ensuring good working conditions for everyone in our supply chains.” She added that, “This includes making sure our suppliers can offer the best possible advice and facilities on health which in turn boosts attendance, worker retention, happiness and productivity.”

According to M&S, 60 percent of people in India lack access to bank accounts and have limited knowledge about saving and insurance. Plan A’s financial literacy program in partnership with Geosansar gives supply chain workers education in money matters and offers access to low-cost financial services. The program signed on its 10,000th supply chain worker in October with plans to double that number in the 12 to 18 months.

With concern for landfill overuse due to garment dumping, M&S held a One Day Wardrobe Clearout where customers and employees “shwopped” 392,000 pieces of used and unwanted clothing. Shoppers receive money off voucher for their M&S shopping when they offer a donation. M&S has collected six million garments to date which all go to support Oxfam.

Plan A’s progress over the last six-month has been good, Barry says, “but we are also very conscious that we’re only part way through our journey of making M&S a sustainable, international multi-channel retail business.” The company is currently working with an external Sustainable Retail Advisory Board on further social and environmental goals for Plan A.