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18 Dec

How Ethical Is Marks & Spencer?

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Marks & Spencer is one of the UK’s most iconic brands that has been a high street feature for over a century. The brand caters to a diverse audience providing a plus size, maternity, and petite range. Marks & Spencer has launched a report dubbed “Plan A” to affirm its commitment to global social and environmental issues. But how well does M&S really measure up ethically with its commitment to animals, the planet, and its workers? Read on to find out as we answer the question: how ethical is Marks & Spencer? This article is based on the Marks & Spencer rating published in August 2021.

Environmental Impact

Marks & Spencer’s environment rating is ‘It’s A Start’. It uses some eco-friendly materials including recycled materials. It has set a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its own operations and supply chain and it is on track to meet its target. It had also set a deadline to eliminate all hazardous chemicals by 2020 which unfortunately wasn’t met, and it has set a new target but there is no evidence the brand is on track to meet it. And while it does implement some water reduction initiatives, there is still more work to be done.

Labour Conditions

For people, Marks & Spencer has received ‘It’s A Start’ once again. The brand received a middle-of-the-road score of 41-50% in the Fashion Transparency Index. And while it publishes detailed information about suppliers, audits, and policies, and some information about forced labour, gender equality, or freedom of association, there is a crucial ingredient missing: payment of a living wage. You can do better, M&S!

Animal Welfare

The brand also gets ‘It’s A Start’ for our animal friends. It has a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms, and traces some animal products to the first stage of production. While it does use wool, it comes from non-mulesed sheep, and its down is accredited by the Responsible Down Standard. However, it continues to use leather and exotic animal hair.

Overall Rating: It’s A Start

Overall, Good On You gives beloved high-street brand Marks & Spencer an ‘It’s A Start’: you can read more in our post about what our ‘It’s A Start’ rating really means. While it is making efforts across the board for people, the planet, and animals, we need to see more fulfilment of commitments across the supply chain for the brand to reach ‘Good’ again.

Note that Good On You ratings consider 100s of issues, and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information, see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.

See the rating.

Good Swaps

Check out our handy guides to ethical maternity clothing and size inclusive affordable brands. There are also some ‘Good’ and ‘Great’ sustainable alternatives to Marks & Spencer below that might meet your needs!

People Tree

Rated: Great

Conscious fashion pioneer and leader People Tree is a seriously more responsible brand. It uses lower-impact materials and addresses labour risks by adopting the Fairtrade International - Small Producers Organisations Code of Conduct.

Find most products in UK sizes 6-18.

See the rating.

Shop People Tree EU.

Shop People Tree @ Wearwell.

Honest Basics

Rated: Good
woman wearing sustainable white t-shirt by honest basics

Honest Basics is a GOTS-certified basics brand based in Germany. It's on a mission to make more sustainable fashion accessible to everyone, by keeping prices low, making quality basics that everyone has in their wardrobe, and constantly improving the sustainability of its products and supply chain.

The range is available in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Honest Basics.


Rated: Good

CHNGE is a US-based more sustainable fashion brand using 100% organic material, built to last a lifetime while making a statement.

Find CHNGE's inclusive clothes in sizes 2XS-4XL.

See the rating.


Little Emperor

Rated: Good
girl wearing pink little emperor t-shirt

Little Emperor creates unique, functional, and hard-wearing clothing for children. Its affordable clothing is made from environmentally friendly organic cotton, with every garment designed in Sydney, Australia and made in a Sedex-approved factory ensuring living wages and safe working conditions for workers. From the materials and packaging, right down to the energy supplier and banking, Little Emperor is dedicated to environmentally friendly practice. Named in honour of the adorable Emperor Penguin, Little Emperor is a member of 1% for the Planet, meaning 1% of sales are donated to environmental non-profits, helping protect the penguins’ home.

See the rating.

Shop Little Emperor.

Yes Friends

Rated: Great

Yes Friends is a UK-based fashion brand that creates more affordable clothing for everyone. Yes Friends' first product, classic cut t-shirts, cost less than £4 to make and the brand only charges £7.99. Using large scale production and direct to consumer margins means Yes Friends can charge you an affordable price for its more responsible clothing.

Find the range inclusively sized in 2XS-4XL.

See the rating.

Shop Yes Friends.

We love these sustainable brands listed above, but they may not meet your specific needs right now. Maybe they’re out of your price range, or don’t stock your size. If you really need something and a product from Marks & Spencer is the best option, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about buying it’It’s A Start’ means just that—the brand is making a start. M&S is already ahead of comparable brands by creating longer-lasting, higher-quality clothes for everyone. And if your options are Marks & Spencer or a brand like SHEIN that is making little to no effort for people, the planet, and animals, M&S is a clear winner. Progress over perfection!

You can also reach out to brands who you think need a little nudge in the right direction. If enough customers demand change, brands that truly care about their impact will have no choice but to respond in kind. Check out the ‘Your Voice’ function on the app or slide into their DMs on social media to let them know what you think.

Editor's note

Feature Image via Marks & Spencer, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search thousands of brands.

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