Maintaining an ethical and accountable supply chain

Emma Crates
Friday 2nd February, 2024

Marshalls has been proactively working to improve human rights in global supply chains since 2005; for almost two decades, we've been driven by our ambition to positively influence change in the industry whilst maintaining confidence in our operations amongst customers and stakeholders.

This work isn't easy, nor is the progress linear. But it is important. In this article, I look at some of the steps we've taken, and are taking, on our journey towards greater transparency.

As signatories to the world's leading corporate sustainability initiative, the UN Global Compact (UNGC), since 2009, we follow the UNGC framework to align our operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption. Our business strategy is also informed by the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities.


We continue to work in-house to understand environmental and human rights risks in the regions and sectors in which we operate. Using sophisticated third-party tools, we're even able to plot the locations of our suppliers against regional, national and international trends. You can see the results of some of our work in our Modern Slavery Risk Analysis Report, which we've been publishing yearly since 2018.

Our Risk report shows our analysis of all the countries in which all our tier one suppliers (those with which we have a direct commercial relationship) are based. We do this to increase transparency about the provenance of our products and to provide a helpful reference guide for anyone operating in or buying from these countries.

Visits and supplier engagement

We've historically been proactive in visiting, assessing and building relationships with our suppliers across the world. Over the years, we've invested resources in physically walking our global supply chains – flying our experts over to meet with suppliers, their workers, and to see all aspects of their operations. We continue to do this because it's important to us that we see it first-hand. We've also collaborated with local experts to understand labour challenges in natural stone supply chains.

We have more trips planned this year, and we always find them insightful because they give us a chance to talk to the workers and their managers and have visibility of all aspects of the operations, from health and safety to worker accommodation.

We know supplier engagement is essential at every point in a supplier relationship, from onboarding processes to long-term strategic partnerships. We are rolling out a code of conduct programme for suppliers and ask that they share the values that we call The Marshalls Way – doing the right things, for the right reasons, in the right way.

Independent verification

We've never been shy of experimenting and pioneering new things. In 2017, we became the first organisation in the world to achieve verification against BRE's Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard (BES 6001), and we have achieved it every year since. The BRE Group states that this standard "demonstrates to customers, partners and other stakeholders a company's commitment to eliminating any possibility of trafficking or modern slavery in their supply chain." Since then, we've been using this standard to validate our work and provide assurance to customers, and it has also helped to drive us forward in our goals in this area.

But we're in a very different situation from 2017. The Covid-19 pandemic put many vulnerable workers in supply chains at greater risk and acted as a block to the usual due diligence activities we would have been carrying out. Since then, the risks exacerbated by Covid and the uncertain global political and economic outlook have put extra pressure on supply chains. When you factor this in with strengthening international human rights laws, it's clear that a more rigorous, data-driven, evidence-based approach is required.

Third-party audits

As the challenges facing our industry continue to change, it's increasingly important that we adapt and move forward. Pre Covid, we ran our supplier assessment programmes using an in-house auditor. This fed into our Ethical Risk Index (ERI), published between 2017 and 2023, focusing solely on natural stone. We're now retiring the ERI to roll out a programme of independent third-party audits that will expand our visibility across a broader range of product areas across the Marshalls group.

Using independent third parties to check conditions in our supply chain is one way to increase the objectivity of our processes; it allows us to demonstrate that we're meeting external expectations and our high standards.

We acknowledge that no supply chain is free of human rights risk, and we need to maintain constant vigilance against chronic threats and emerging global trends. But despite the challenges, we are travelling optimistically on a journey of learning and partnerships whilst striving for continual improvement. We are readying ourselves for a new era of more intensive scrutiny and hope that our actions will open up meaningful conversations with our customers, suppliers and all other stakeholders.

More information

Our work in this area forms part of our broader sustainability work, where we strive to create better futures for everyone – you can find out more about this in the sustainability section of our website. If you're looking to source, or find out more about natural stone, you can view our natural stone ranges online, or get in touch with the team by calling 0333 2202737.

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