Marks and Spencer (M&S) recently piloted training toolkits for its supplier factories in the UK and Sri Lanka, as part of its Plan A commitment to being a Fair Partner. These toolkits were a result of a collaborative design process between M&S and its factories, led by A Very Good Company (AVGC). The process of co-creation has helped to engage suppliers with M&S’s sustainability agenda, leading to the creation of a product that connects with the needs of M&S, its factory managers and their employees. This collaborative approach to creating behaviour change within a factory environment has transferable learning for brands as they seek to engage consumers with new, more sustainable propositions.
In order to strengthen its supply chain, M&S has committed to training half a million factory workers on employment rights and health and safety by 2015. This is a significant commitment given the retailer’s global supply chain spanning both general merchandise and food. The many logistical challenges of scheduling and implementing training around 24-hour production schedules, high worker turnover and varying literacy levels amongst workers were also potential barriers to effective factory training.
M&S recognised that in order to tackle these issues, they would need a new approach to training. The company began by collaborating with AVGC to conduct research with factories, which enabled M&S to understand the issues that suppliers wanted addressed in training and what would enable them to deliver training. This process of research and co-creation led to the development of a training resource toolkit that provided factories with the communication materials, ideas and guidance to implement campaigns around core themes relevant to their workers.
Health and well-being resource toolkits were first piloted in Sri Lanka in late 2012. Unlike traditional classroom training, these toolkits helped bring to life issues around hydration, nutrition and disease prevention through cooking sessions, competitions and even on-site vegetable gardens. More recently, Healthy Week and Money Week toolkits were also piloted in UK factories. These have helped factories address very different concerns around lifestyle diseases associated with smoking and drinking as well as financial literacy.
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Initial results from the Sri Lanka pilot, attained through the use of mobile phone surveys of 1500 workers in seven factories, showed that the Healthy Week activities has improved awareness around the key health issues of the toolkits. As a result of Healthy Week activities, 50% more workers understood how to mitigate disease and 23% more workers drank adequate levels of water for hydration.
Our experience of co-creating this new approach to training underlines the importance of working collaboratively from the beginning with key stakeholders on a brand’s sustainability proposition. It is important to gain insight from those that brands want to create behavior change with and to build solutions with them. By empowering those closest to the issue, brands can create an army of influencers who can lead and to champion the same social and environmental issues that matter to them and their customers. The ownership and participation of a brand’s broader community also creates a wealth of personal stories of change that is as powerful as the ‘numbers of those involved.’