Debenhams Sustainability Report
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Ethical Trade Programmes

Ethical Trade Programmes

We have a number of programmes to improve the lives of those within our supply chain, in particular female empowerment and worker wellbeing, which are two of our key components of our ethical strategy. The following programmes  we have developed or participate in as wider retailer initiatives.


‘Benefits for Business and Workers’ programme, is currently run in Bangladesh and India by Impactt, who are a leading consultancy specialising in ethical trade, human rights, labour standards, gender and international development. Impactt regularly works with major brands retailers, governments and NGO’s to maximise the positive impact of global trade on workers and local communities. The objective of the programme is to train factory management on Productivity, HR practices, improved management worker engagement, creating a more productive and efficient workforce with reduced absenteeism and labour turnover.

BBW Bangladesh

Since January 2014 the programme has reached 85 factories and over 162,000 workers in Bangladesh, involving 10 international retailers including Debenhams. Our participation reached over 30,000 workers, which included over 18,000 women workers in Bangladesh, across 14 factories. All the factories graduated and declared an increase in efficiency. The factories have achieved good results in the reduction of absenteeism, labour turnover and cut to ship ratio savings.


BBW India

We started the programme in India earlier this year. We received positive data from our first batch of factories with one factory improving their efficiency rate and reducing new worker turnover. In two other factories there was an increase in average pay per hour for the pilot lines of up to 15%. Despite the challenges faced in the key agricultural months when workers often take leave and migrate, we have seen positive improvements in reduced absenteeism.  Like Bangladesh, all factories will be supported with their next steps to help them sustain the changes and continue to improve after they have graduated, which will continue to be closely monitored by Debenhams.

For further information please go to

ILO – Better Works Programme

Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) launched in 2001 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is a partnership between ILO and manufacturers. The ILO, a United Nations agency founded in 1919, aims to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues. Participation in the Better Works programme was made mandatory for all export garment factories. During the past 18 months we have indirectly impacted over 24,000 workers in our supply chain, with the aim to improve social standards and the lives of workers building on 3 components: Monitoring, Stakeholder engagement, facilitating collaboration between workers and management. The programme builds on long term improvement plans involving a wide range of stakeholders to create real sustainable change. For further information please go to

Better Works Vietnam (BWV) started in 2009 and focuses on garment factories in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. Better Works Vietnam (BWV) to date has reached over 6000 workers since we engaged in the programme. Similarly to BFC the programme is a partnership with the ILO to work together in improving social standards in factories. We have visited Cambodia and Vietnam during the course of the year and met with our factories to discuss new ways of managing the programme with a more practical, pragmatic approach, supported by the ILO. For further information please go to


In 2015, Debenhams partnered with Swasti, an International Health Resource Centre based in Bangalore, India to implement the LIFE programme (Life Skills for Empowering Women), that aimed at empowering workers, particularly women, working in Debenhams global supply chain in India. The programme focused on strengthening life skills of workers so that, they are better equipped to handle challenges in their personal and professional spheres, leading to enhanced quality of life.

The workers are being trained on five modules:

  • Health & Hygiene
  • Food & Nutrition
  • Reproductive Health
  • Financial Literacy
  • Gender Relationships



The LIFE programme was based on a worker well-being model, designed by Swasti and Debenhams. The programme was officially launched in India in June 2015, covering over 4000 workers across four factories, of which 2,111 are female. We plan to expand the programme in the coming year, to enrich the lives of more workforce.

To know more about our partner Swasti, visit 


A Skills and Employment Programme in Bangladesh to train and support women and the disadvantaged population into employment. Private sector companies in Bangladesh consistently identify low skills levels amongst the labour force. Debenhams were the first retailer to be involved in this programme with DFID the UK Department for International Development.

We have six factories in the pilot project and helped to develop the training and support, which will continue for at least 3 more years. The goal is to create an industry qualification and certification, encouraging a multi-skilled work force to increase productivity, quality and has the capacity for higher earnings; this is done in factory training rooms by physically training new workers how to sew. The training programme is being rolled out to a further 15 factories, supported by DFID partners. We will update this post with more details in the coming months. For further information please go to


China Capacity Programme

We launched a training and development programme in October 2015 for our key suppliers and factories who continue to have on-going serious non-compliant issues. An in depth analysis of our 473 China factory audits and remediation data highlighted three common areas as the most challenging: health and safety, employment practices, wages and working hours. Our training programme was designed and developed in collaboration with Impactt focusing on the root causes of these issues, the labour law and how to create sustainable change. Working together with our HKO and Impactt China team we have started to see positive change. 34 factories are involved in the initial pilot. They have attended off-site training days; the Ethical Hiring module is over 2 days, due to the complexity of hiring people; seasonal, temporary and labour provider challenges. Each factory has to apply their learning and new approach at factory level and submit an action plan and report after each module. Random on-site visits are conducted by our Hong Kong team to validate the implementation of these new improved ways of working. To date 125 improvement actions have been completed. For further information please go


(ACT) Action, Collaboration, Transformation – A new way of approaching “Fair Wages” in the supply chain

Debenhams is a member of ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation), which is a new collaborative initiative bringing together international brands, retailers, manufacturers and global trade unions to address the issues of fair wages in the garment sector, supply base. ACT membership currently consists of internationally recognised brands. The foundation of the programme is built upon the Enabling Principles drafted between the founding brands and in July 2015 Debenhams has signed a Declaration of Intent (DoI) with IndustriALL Global Union and ACT member brands.

To achieve this objective it was recognised a collective approach was needed involving all key stakeholders. Engagement with government, the ILO (International Labour organisation), trade, industry bodies and civil society groups.

Fast Forward

The Fast Forward Programme is an industry initiative to look at social risks in UK manufacturing. We are a founder member of Fast Forward since 2015, with other retailers.

The programme tackles the industry wide shortfall identified in the UK supply chain through the ETI Leicester report published in December 2014, written by the University of Leicester. On 30th of March 2015, we held a supplier conference at our head office for all UK suppliers and factories to introduce the Fast Forward programme in line with the Modern Slavery Act. The in-depth audit assessments through this programme cover key areas such as right to work, national minimum wage, contracts of employment, tax, mistreatment and health & safety in line with the UK labour law requirements. Retailer collaborative remediation is done to raise awareness and eliminate risk. The programme currently impacts more than 7000 workers in our supply chain. This assessment replaces the industry standard SMETA audit for our UK supply base. We continue to use the SMETA audit methodology globally.

Fast Forward Logo