Marks & Spencer Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility

Table of Contents


Corporate social responsibility has become a common business imperative in today’s globalized world. Newspapers, print and audio media are increasingly engaging in debates on benefits that businesses are likely to derive by conducting their businesses responsibly (Darwall, 2002). Management experts are not left in the debate; they are organizing corporate seminars aimed at training managers on the new development and style of management (Rasmusse, 2005). Marks and Spencer is an international UK based retail company that traces its roots back to a ‘penny shop’ set up by Michael Marks in Leeds in 1884, and after 10 years, a partnership with Thomas Spenser’s led to the establishment of Marks & Spenser’s stores (Marks & Spencer Official website, 2006). The success of the company has been attributed to among others effective management, customer care management, and operating an effective integrated business system (Machan, 2007). One area that Marks and Spencer can be given credit is its corporate social responsibility operations and its ethical code of conduct (Pablo, 2008). This paper discusses the corporate social responsibilities as adopted at Marks and Spence; the order will focus on two main strategic issues as far as CSR is concerned (economic and social issues).

Economic strategies of CSR at Marks and Spencer

As a corporate social responsibility strategy, Marks & Spencer (M&S) ensures that it has such projects that can improve the lives of the target people. The programs range from skill development, economical empowerment, and programs that empower particular groups in the community like youth, old, women, and homeless. Marks & Spencer (M&S) ensures that it works in a morally acceptable manner and in accordance with the law (Ashkanasy, 2011). Marks and Spencer started to get a keen interest in giving back to the community in 2001 when the management developed a program that collected data from employees, customers and stakeholders on the best community programmers that it can develop. The outcome of the research developed a program that focused on improving 600 homeless people in 13 cities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; the company was offering assistance to the people to develop decent shelters and in some cases a chance to work with the company (Duska, 1999). Although the undertaking was not meant to benefit the company directly, the effect could be felt in the increased sales in the company (DeSimone, Werner & Harris, 2002). An organization’s code of ethics defines how an organization responds to internal or external stimuli. In most organizations, they are in blueprints and an internal policy (Goleman, Richard & Annie, 2002).

They form part of organizational training needs. Organizations that uphold high respect for their code of ethics maintain good internal and external relations with their stakeholders (Kingsolver, 2008). Laws that operate in an economy are supposed to offer the pathway and directions of the morally and ethically accepted behavior that businesses are supposed to uphold; this does not imply that all ethical behavior has a legal backing (Goold & Campbell, 2002). The business operates in environments where they are affected by the prevailing conditions and on the other hand they affect prevailing conditions (Kotter & Schlesinger, 2008). The success of a business is dependent on how well it is performing in its operating environment. It gets its profits from businesses conducted within and without (Moon, 2001). Giving back to society is necessitated by the close relationship of customer business. Social corporate responsibilities are policies enacted by an organization for the benefit of the society which impacts positively to the business (Hino, 2006).

Social CSR practices at Marks & Spencer (M&S)

Marks & Spencer (M&S) understands that for an effective business, its actions should be sensitive to the effects they have on the environment; with this notion, the company has enacted policies that benefit the environment, health of a population, education among others. In the plain text of it, it is seen as a way of recognition by a business of a pressing problem existing in a society and taking a step to look for a solution to it (Porter, 1985). The approach taken by norm ethics theory is similar to the approach taken by-laws of a country (Dobson, 1997).

In 2004, M$S launched its corporate social responsibility termed “Ready for Work” program, the program focused on offering some business management knowledge to target people in the efforts of assisting them to set up and manage businesses. The “Ready for Work” program was the precursor to Marks & Start which had the following objectives as far as corporate social responsibilities are concerned (Porter, 1980):

  1. Improving the economic well-being of the community (Fred, 2008).
  2. Protecting the environment
  3. Ensuring a good relationship between the company and the operating environment (Jones, Parker & Bos, 2005)
  4. Environmental preservation; the company aims at facilitating the preservation of the environment by its own programs and supporting community-based projects (Jakupec & Garrick, 2002).

After the launching of the program, the company started to focus on young unemployed, disabled people, parents returning to work, students who are the first in their family to go to university, and school students (14-16 years old); these were people whom the company felt required special attention in its efforts to initiate entrepreneurial skills in them (Collis & Rukstad, 2008). Other programs that the company has engaged in include, the building of medical centers and hospitals, building schools, scholarships to students and charity work (Camillus, 2008). Charity work is at the heart of the company; to undertake the programs, the company engages in partnership with Business Action on Homelessness (the homeless), Prince’s Trust (young unemployed), One Parent Families and Parentline Plus, and DisabledGo (people with disabilities) (Goodman, 2009).

The success of M$S corporate social responsibility activities bore fruits in 2006 when the company noted that of 30% of those people who had gone through their training program as pre-employments or as sponsored students had gotten employments with either the government or the company (Xiao-Ping, 2011). In 2005, the company decided to increase the coverage of its Ready for Work program to reach at least 2500 people; the move was seen as the need for the company to improve people’s living within its outlets (Tovey & Lawlor, 2004). The efforts made by the company have made the company gain positive perceptions from its customers and stakeholders (Stewart & Watson, 2001).


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a common business imperative in today’s globalized world; Marks & Spencer (M&S) has embarked on CSR programs in its efforts to improve the environment. By developing a CSR program, the firm aims at looking into three P’s (political, profit, and planet) of ethical business. Marks & Spencer’s (M&S), Ready for Work program has assisted the company gains customer loyalty, enhancing the environment, the increased the reputation of the business and has improved people socially, economically and politically (Smith, 2002).


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