Corporate Social Responsibility
Debenhams Sustainability Report

Archive for the ‘Equality’ Category

Ethical Trade Overview

View our Factory list here

Top 10 Sourcing Countries by Number of Factories 

Top 10 Sourcing Countries by Value 

Human Rights & Modern Slavery

As a fundamental part of our Supplier Code of Conduct, Debenhams respects International principles of Human Rights, including but not limited to those expressed in our Human Rights Policy, UN Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Guiding Principles, Sustainable Development Goals and those principles contained within the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

All Ethical Trade policies have ownership at company board level, with the aim to protect employee welfare and basic human rights within our supply chains. These policies have been made in line with the UN guiding principles and are influenced by civil society, unions, NGOs, multi-stakeholder and brand collaboration. 

Those polices are as follows:

Modern Slavery Statement 2016

Modern Slavery Statement 2017

Modern Slavery Statement 2018

Human Rights Policy

Code of Conduct

In 2019, as part of the Ethical Trade strategy we will be introducing detailed policies on Ethical Recruitment and Child Labour Remediation. Though these items are an integral part of the Supplier Code of Conduct, by creating individual polices we hope to strengthen and focus efforts within these areas, with the aim of protecting the most vulnerable.   

Living Wages

The Global Living Wage Coalition provides the following definition of a living wage:

“The remuneration received for a standard workweek by a worker in a particular place sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and her or his family. Elements of a decent standard of living include food, water, housing, education, health care, transportation, clothing and other essential needs including provision for unexpected events.”


Current Progress

To date Debenhams has engaged in the following initiatives and programmes, to actively support the payment of living wages within our extended global supply chains.

Informed by the purchasing practices review, in 2020 we will be rolling out the ‘Purchasing Practices Academy’. This training programme will be completed by all relevant colleagues to continue internal conversations around purchasing practices, while establishing best practice for ways of working going forward.

Following the mapping of worker representation levels in the Tier 1 supply base we aim to facilitate the development and strengthening of worker committees and trade union partnerships (where applicable), enabling employees to create a worker-management dialogue regarding wage-related issues. Strengthening of the worker committees will be achieved through workshops in key sourcing countries as part of the Debenhams Partners Training Programme, as well as one-to-one on-site factory visits by members of the Ethical Trade team.

Creation and implementation of this programme was based closely on the ETI’s Freedom of Association and worker representation roadmap which forms the basis of discussions with factories on how they can improve on worker representation at site level. More information on this can be found here.


Debenhams are involved in a number of Ethical Trade programmes that aim to reduce inequalities within our global supply chains, focusing on life skills that will empower women and their communities.



In 2015, Debenhams partnered with Swasti, an International Health Resource Centre based in Bangalore, India to implement our LIFE programme (Life Skills for Empowering Women), By delivering a number of training modules, the programme objective was to raise awareness and empower workers, particularly women, working in the Debenhams Indian supply chain.




The workers are trained on five key areas:

We have already seen positive results with the current Swasti Life women empowerment programme in India, impacting over 6,400 workers to date. We now plan to expand this into other sourcing countries within the supply chain where there is a high concentration of women.

Success Stories

“I have begun to look at women with respect after the program. I would look down upon women, and feel that they were not equals. The training made me realize that we are equals. I also learnt about menstruation, and realized that I need to help my mother and sister at home, especially during those days as they need to rest. I have shared learning on nutritious food with them, and they follow it now. My mother cooks a variety of vegetables at home. I discuss my finances with my mother, and I have been able to save Rs.5000 every month in the bank. My mother and aunt save in the post office every month.”
Rajashekhar, Sample, Cutting Assistant

“Workers maintain hygiene at the workplace. Men and women mingle with each other, and help each other at work. They have begun to eat nutritious food, and drink boiled water. I give boiled water to all the children in the crèche.”

“Someone I know is separated from her husband. She lives all alone, and I have been able to build her confidence to live her life. I have shared the learnings from the program, and encourage her to go ahead in life. Today, I am able to help and talk to someone because of the program. Swasti should reach more people through this training, so that they are able to lead enriching lives.”
Shanti, a caretaker in the Crèche

Some of the Impacts of the programme is shared through the below videos from our factories:

Please visit for more information.

Sudokkhu Skills Training

Sudokkho is a five-year skills training and employment programme in Bangladesh funded by UK aid through its Department for International Development (DFID) and the Swiss Agency Sudokkho’s objective is to reduce poverty through better training and job opportunities. The “Industry Based Training” (IBT) of Sudokkho works together with private sector employers to support industry to develop innovative and sustainable skills training systems that allow existing or new employees to acquire the skills that lead to employment in higher valued semi-skilled or skilled jobs.

Sudokkho trainings are customised and factories are encouraged to use their monthly labour turnover and forecasts to define their workforce planning and training requirements. The training system adopts a Competency Based Approach and focuses on three core elements, Quantity, Quality and Time (QQT).

The training statistics from December 2015 to December 2017 are:

Debenhams factories Number Trained
Women 3,161
Men 789
Total 3,950

Benefits reported by the factories

Testimonials from factories

For further information please visit

Other existing programmes that aim to reduce inequalities include HER Finance, supporting digital banking for Bangladesh factory workers and sexual harassment training conducted by ILO Better Work in Vietnam and Cambodia.


Ethical sustainable sourcing is essential to our business and integral to our decision making. We work closely with our suppliers and factories, taking into consideration at all times the impact on the environment and the needs of the people who work within our complex global supply chains. When looking at new countries or regions, we work with our overseas offices and existing suppliers to understand the local challenges, helping to support and manage risk.

Our Global Teams

The Ethical Trade and Corporate Responsibility teams are part of the Sourcing division working closely together with Buying and Merchandising and our suppliers to ensure a compliant, transparent and consistent flow of goods. As well as the Support Centre located in London, Debenhams has two international sourcing offices, located in Hong Kong and Bangladesh, who also provide in country support for sourcing, merchandising, quality control and ethical trade. The overseas offices enable us to create closer working relationships with suppliers and factories as well as increase flexibility, control and transparency. The in-country Ethical Trade teams visit and assess factories on an on-going basis and also manage capacity building programmes. Our Ethical Trade team in Dhaka continue to support the remediation process within our approved factory supply base to ensure building, fire and electrical safety improvements have been met and are being monitored regularly as part of the Accord Bangladesh.

Our Code

Debenhams has been a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) since 2001. The ETI Base Code is an internationally recognised code of labour practice based on the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). 

ETI Logo

Our Supplier Code of Conduct is based upon the ETI Base code and ILO Core Conventions. This code describes the absolute minimum requirements for all suppliers and factories to adhere to. The underlying objective of the code is to protect human rights for all workers within the global supply chain, forming the basis of our Ethical Trade programme. To view the Supplier Code of Conduct, please click here.

In addition, we are actively involved with various ETI initiatives, such as Gender Analysis, Transparency, Modern Slavery and the China Working Group. We also continue to collaborate with other retailers and organisations such as the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Stronger Together and the Association of Labour Providers (ALP) to share learning experiences and find solutions.

Better Retail Better World

Better Retail Better World

As of March 2018 we confirmed our commitment to the BRC Better Retail Better World Pledge, joining a number of recognisable brands and retailers, to focus on the challenges surrounding modern slavery, decent work, sustainable economic growth, reducing inequalities, climate change, responsible consumption and production. 

We see Better Retail, Better World as an opportunity to collaborate at an industry level and effect real sustainable change on a global scale. As a company we are committed to the Sustainable Development Goals, which have become the foundation of our company wide core CSR strategy ‘Doing Our Bit’ with the aim to positively impact our colleagues and the communities we operate in. 

Monitoring of the Supply Base

We operate a continuous monitoring programme which assesses all factories making own brand product against the Debenhams Supplier Code of Conduct. This is done through either an independent third party audit on an annual basis or more frequently depending on the type of issues raised, or a follow-up remediation visit by Ethical Trade team members based in the UK, Hong Kong and Bangladesh. We use an audit methodology called SMETA, an industry standard across the retail sector, creating continuity and standardised reporting. This also helps reduce repetitive auditing for factories where retailers share the same manufacturing site. 

Currently we have 938 active factories consisting of almost half a million workers across our global supply base. All factories must undergo a pre-assessment process by the Ethical Trade team before order placement, this includes:

During FY2018 the Ethical Trade team conducted over 450 factory visits to support remediation, conduct training and support implementation of corrective actions identified within the third party audits. This would have included critical non-compliances, indicators of Modern Slavery, young workers, health and safety issues, wage violations, excessive working hours, lack of legal employment contracts and discrimination against migrant labour.

It is clearly stated in our Code of Conduct, Conditions of Trading and company policies, that unauthorised subcontracting is not permitted under any circumstances. This is also frequently communicated to all suppliers and factories. However, as unauthorised subcontracting is still a challenge that retailers face, to minimise the risk of this happening Debenhams have an ongoing Spot Check programme. Each month factories are randomly selected for unannounced inspections conducted by Intertek or the Debenhams Ethical Trade team to check orders are being produced in the approved factory.

Capacity Building Programmes

The importance of supplier and factory engagement is essential to maintain open working relationships, encourage dialogue and promote transparency. Therefore training and development coupled with on-going support and guidance, is imperative to drive positive sustainable change. Please see below for more information on in country capacity building programmes that Debenhams are a part of:

ILO – Better Work Programme

Better Work is a global partnership between the ILO (International Labour Organization), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Brands, Government, Manufacturers, Trade Unions and Workers. The global programme reaches over 1.3 million workers, with 80% of those workers being women.

The aim is to improve social standards and the lives of workers through monitoring, stakeholder engagement and facilitating collaboration between workers and management to strengthen dialogue on work-related issues. The programme builds on long-term improvement plans to create real sustainable change. 

The Better Work programme uses tools such as factory self-reporting and public reporting to improve conditions and drive competitiveness within the industry.

As a partner member, Debenhams garment factories in Cambodia, Vietnam and more recently Bangladesh, are involved in the programme. During the course of 2017 Debenhams Ethical Trade team, supported by the ILO, have conducted seminars in the UK, Cambodia and Vietnam for suppliers and factories, to continue awareness, training and open discussions on the Better Work audit programme.

Debenhams & Better Work Seminar in Cambodia

Debenhams & Better Work Seminar in Vietnam

Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) started in 2001 with participation in the Better Work programme being mandatory for all export garment factories. Through our partnership with Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) we have indirectly impacted over 24,000 workers in our supply chain.

Better Work Vietnam (BWV) started in 2009, only garment and footwear factories in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi are in scope. Better Work Vietnam (BWV) to date has reached over 6000 workers since we engaged in the programme.

The factories benefits from:

China Collaboration Programme

In 2015, we partnered with Impactt, a leading Ethical Trade consultancy (, to design and develop a capacity training programme, focusing on the following key areas:

The programme aims to inform factories of common root causes that could lead to issues such as inefficient systems for social security insurance, excessive overtime working hours in peak seasons, how to balance fair compensation and factory productivity for piece-rate workers. All training material was designed and conducted in local language by Impactt’s expert training team, supported by the Debenhams Ethical Trade team.

39 suppliers participated in our initial phase. At the end of each training session, the participants were required to design realistic and practical solutions based on their individual factory issues with the aim to resolve the non-compliance identified from their previous audits. At the end of the agreed remediation timeframe, Impactt conducted verification of each committed action with the individual factory participants.

At the end of the pilot programme our factories had developed 672 improvement actions with 70% or 471 actions now completed or in progress. We further identified additional areas for improvement including training policy, workers’ involvement, topics such as anti-bribery and anti-slavery. Due to the success of the initial phase it has been developed further to include a total of 7 major retailers and brands, increasing the scope across China.

There are now 140 factories in Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Fujian regions, enrolled in the expanded programme.

In July 2017, 78 factories had completed the first training module on health and safety in Guangzhou and Hangzhou, they expressed different challenges during the training which included:


Following the tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, the Accord was set up as an independent agreement between brands and trade unions designed to work towards a safe and healthy Bangladeshi Ready-Made Garment (RMG) Industry.

Debenhams remain a signatory to the ACCORD and have continued this commitment by signing the new ACCORD 2018 agreement.

We continue to support our supplier partners and factories to ensure the remediation from the ACCORD inspections is being completed to ensure worker safety. On a continual basis our Dhaka compliance team visit factories, monitor progress and we attend joint collaborative retailer meetings in Dhaka, UK and ACCORD EU headquarters.

For further information please go to

All Debenhams Bangladeshi factories have been inspected under the ACCORD

Fast Forward

The Fast Forward Programme is an industry initiative focusing on human rights risks in supply chains, with retailers working collaboratively to tackle labour exploitation and build a sustainable UK manufacturing base. 

The Modern Slavery Act came into effect in 2015, which required businesses to declare actions taken to make their supply chain fully transparent.  In 2015, Debenhams became a founder member of Fast Forward, currently there are 9 Retail members and brands in the programme.

The Fast Forward assessment, approach and methodology has proven to delve appropriately into business management systems and labour laws to identify poor working conditions, which the majority of standard audit methodologies did not previously identify. The in-depth audit assessments cover key areas such as right to work documentation, national minimum wage, contracts of employment, tax, mistreatment and health & safety in line with the UK labour law requirements.

We have 20 UK factories in the Apparel, Food and Furniture sectors. All the facilities have been audited under the Fast Forward programme, impacting more than 4000 workers in our supply chain. This assessment replaces the industry standard SMETA audit for our UK supply base, however we continue to use the SMETA audit methodology globally.

20 100%
No of UK factories we
source from
 Fast Forward audited

Some of the non-compliances found through these audits are:

Following the audit, we work with our suppliers and factories to complete a remediation programme with agreed timelines. The Fast Forward programme is being introduced across our business to other categories such as Goods Not for Resale (GNFR) and Service Providers. All of our UK manufacturers have gone through a one day Fast Forward workshop and training to understand the requirements of the programme. Being a member of Fast Forward allows us to build honest and open dialogue with our UK factories and creating long term sustainable partnerships.

Great place to work

Attract – keep – grow

Our strategy is to attract, keep and grow the very best in our industry and to unlock the potential in each and every one of our people worldwide.

Debenhams directly employs around 30,000 people in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Hong Kong and Denmark with thousands more in our franchise stores worldwide. We’re continuing to grow and each year we create more jobs as we open new stores.

Over the last couple of years, there has been a move to balance internal promotions, with ensuring that we are hiring in the right skills and experience that’s required in the business.

Our policy of developing our people and filling management vacancies through internal promotion is working well.

We have also worked in partnership with Capita to set up a leading-edge Call Centre in Leeds that will be able to scale with us as our multi-channel business continues to grow.

Your Voice

Our relationship with our employees is crucial to our success as a business. In 2016 over 80% of our employees participated in the second annual ‘ Your Voice ‘ engagement survey. The results of the survey make it very clear that if you work at Debenhams it really is all about the people and the pride in doing a good job. The commitment and loyalty of our team are evidenced by the long service of many of our employees, some of whom have dedicated more than 40 years to the Company.

Listening to our customers

We put our customers at the heart of everything we do and actively seek their views. We see this as an integral part of our plans for a sustainable customer base. We connect online and face-to-face with thousands of customers in the UK, Republic of Ireland and Denmark.

Up close

Debenhams’ Customer Closeness programme gives senior management the unique opportunity to collect constructive criticism, advice and insights directly from shoppers.

In addition, Customer closeness sessions allow senior executives to meet eight to ten customers at a time to talk to them about their experiences of shopping at Debenhams. “Customer Closeness days highlight a number of local and national opportunities that the senior management are actively discussing,” says Richard Cristofoli, Marketing Director.

We also have a customer panel of 15,000 customers to whom we send weekly surveys on a variety of topics.

Customer Voice

Customer Voice is our ongoing multi-channel customer satisfaction survey. It allows all customers to share feedback on any part of their shopping experience with Debenhams – such as personal shopper, delivery to home or collect from store. The short survey is easy to complete for customers.

We also operate an online website satisfaction survey. Our single customer view system also allows us to survey specific customers based on their purchase history. We communicate feedback from the surveys to the relevant directors and managers to help them improve the shopping experience in their stores and recognise excellent customer service when their staff receive praise from customers.


Diversity and Body Confidence