Is Marks & Spencer Ethical and Sustainable?

M&S started way back in 1884, but have its ethics caught up?

Last Updated on June 4, 2023

Marks & Spencer is one of the longest-standing brands on the Great British high street, but how ethical and sustainable is it today?

M&S was founded by Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer, launching as Penny Bazaar in Leeds in 1884. It went on to become one of Britain’s most popular stores, and in 2019 boasted almost 1,500 bricks and mortar shops across the country.

It was praised for launching a report entitled Plan A, which commits generally to people, the planet and places, and they publish their progress annually. Read more about Plan A.

Marks & Spencer model wears black dress

Here, we take a look at the practises behind the brand.

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Is M&S sustainable?

Marks & Spencer has made some great commitments to becoming more sustainable as part of its Plan A commitment.

As part of this commitment, the brand plans to become a ‘net zero business across our entire value chain by 2040.’

This means that they aim to add no more greenhouse emissions to the atmosphere than they take out of it through their manufacturing processes.

It uses many sustainable materials, such as recycled nylon, recycled polyester and 100% responsibly-sourced organic cotton, with the majority through the Better Cotton Initiative. The brand have partnered with Jeanologia to reduce water consumption in the production of jeans and now their denim uses 85% less water to manufacture.

Want to know about Mango’s fashion sustainability practises? Read on Is Mango Ethical and Sustainable?

More generally, Marks & Spencer offers good quality clothing that will stand the test of time. It claims that all its products ‘undergo rigorous wear and wash tests,’ but when they’re worn out, M&S encourages you to ‘schwop’ them by dropping them into Schwopping bins in-store. These garments will either be recycled, resold or given to those in need.

Read more about the brand’s sustainable approach here.

In 2012, Marks & Spencer became the first major brand to become carbon neutral and now 100% of the electricity it uses comes from renewable sources. It has reduced its business emissions by 75% in the last 12 years, but wants to do more. In 2017, M&S pledged to cut their emissions by 90% by 2035.

Read more about the brand’s action on climate change here.

When it comes to plastic, M&S has removed 2,000 tonnes of plastic packaging and are aiming to eliminate 1,000 more over the next year. While over 75% of its plastic packaging is recycled, it’s aiming to make that 100% by 2022.

Read more about the brand’s plastics plan here.

However at the time of writing, Marks & Spencer had over 700 new items on its website. While the brand is making an effort to address sustainability, it’s important to note that producing so many garments can never be sustainable as it encourages customers to buy more and wear their clothing less.

READ MORE: Is vintage fashion the answer to sustainability?

Is M&S ethical?

M&S is often praised for offering diverse ranges to customers, including adaptive clothing for children, maternity wear and plus-size clothing – but what about behind the scenes?

Marks & Spencer is certified by SEDEX Members Ethical Trade Audit, which allows businesses to ‘assess their sites and suppliers to understand working conditions in their supply chain.’

It claims its priority is ‘to ensure our suppliers pay a fair wage to workers’ and add that it has ‘zero tolerance on issues such as modern slavery, child labour, discrimination and harassment.’

However Good On You explains it still operates in high-risk countries in Asia, including India, Kazakhstan, Libya, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vietnam, and have failed to address this.

Read M&S’ ethics policy here.

Marks & Spencer model wears the brand's top and skirt

Marks & Spencer Animal Welfare Policy

When it comes to animal welfare, it appears M&S still has some work to do.

The brand continues to use leather, down and cashmere, but unfortunately fails to be transparent about the sources of these materials.

On the plus side, Marks & Spencer no longer uses fur, angora or other animal skins, and complies with the Responsible Wool Standard.

Wear Next Opinion

Wear Next believes it’s important to highlight the negative and unjust practises taking place in the fashion industry. We believe ethics and sustainability are an important talking point to bring about change and we encourage you to contact fashion brands to demand this.

However we understand that sustainable fashion isn’t accessible for every body due to various factors, such as budget and the ability to find confidence-boosting clothes that fit. We will continue to offer you fashion inspiration and guidance to suit every body and budget, while also highlighting the unjust systems at play in the fashion industry.

We encourage our readers to shop mindfully and purposefully, ditching impulse purchases as a way to start shopping sustainably. If you want to learn more about fast fashion, we recommend books from this reading list.