Celebrating IWD 2019: M&S Joins Better Than Cash Alliance

By Lydia Hopton, Ethical Trade Manager, M&S Clothing and Home

M&S has made a bold commitment to helping its supply chain convert from cash to digital wage payments, but they recognise they can’t do this alone. In this article, M&S celebrates what can be achieved through collaboration with partnerships, other businesses and NGOs.

There’s no normal day working as the Global Ethical Trade Manager at M&S. On Monday I might be in Cambodia meeting a programme delivery partner, by Friday I’m back in London running a compliance report on a proposed new supplier or co-ordinating a weekly call with our regional managers based around the world. Since starting my role last year, I’ve travelled extensively, explored numerous garment factories, visited the communities factory workers live in and met some truly inspiring people.  I am lucky to have inherited an established programme of projects which have impacted over 890,000 people working in the supply chain of M&S covering health, leadership skills, technical skills and responsible sourcing to name a few – but there’s always more to do.


Following International Women’s Day earlier this month, I am proud to announce that M&S has become a member of the ground-breaking partnership Better Than Cash Alliance. But what does this actually mean?

You probably consider it the norm to have access to electronic payments; tapping your plastic to buy the weekly shop, transferring money to your family or friends online, paying the bills from your laptop. But today, 1.7 billion adults, predominately women – are excluded from a formal banking service. They can’t tap, transfer or pay online, their life is all in cash.

280 million adults globally receive their private sector wages in cash. Cash is a problem for both suppliers and workers because it is;

  • Risky; quite simply, cash is easier to steal.
  • Inefficient; significant time is spent receiving, counting, distributing and collecting cash.
  • Disempowering for workers, especially women, they are less able to manage economic shocks, and have less control over cash wages.

As a member of the Alliance, we will pursue programs aimed at increasing the use of electronic payments across our global supply chain, in collaboration with our suppliers and other brands. But this work didn’t start today. In 2017, we made a public commitment in Plan A 2025 that “By 2020, all workers in our first-tier food, clothing and home manufacturing sites will have the opportunity to be paid digitally”.

BSR HERfinance– an example of our digitisation work

In Bangladesh, our work to deliver this Plan A commitment is progressing at pace. We started working on digitisation in Bangladesh in 2015 when M&S became one of the first brands to join BSR’s HERfinance Digital Wages program in the country. A part of BSR’s HERproject, the HERfinance Digital Wages program supports factories to switch from cash to digital payroll with the goal of improving the financial health and wellbeing of workers, especially women, while also increasing supplier transparency and efficiency. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, BSR’s HERfinance Digital Wages program has supported ten M&S suppliers employing over 34,000 workers (17,882 women) to make the switch by providing guidance, training, and support to both factory management and workers directly.

Data collected to date shows that after completing the Digital Wages program:

– There is an increase of 33% in the number of workers (male and female) saving regularly;   

– Women are 15% more likely to participate in household decisions related to spending and saving;

– Mobile phone ownership increased by 86% among women workers;

– Suppliers experience a 53% reduction in administration time for processing wage payments.

The initial results from this partnership with BSR have been extremely positive, and we are now committed to expanding this to the rest of our suppliers in Bangladesh and beyond. We are working with other brands, like H&M, Debenhams and Target to speed up the transition to digital across the garment sector in Bangladesh.

There is a clear business case to transition from cash to digital payments; it supports the Sustainable Development Goals and it is safer. Following International Women’s Day, I want to highlight what it means to a woman to be included in the formal financial sector- she has better control of her money, she can save, it empowers her and provides security and she has independence, so it seems only fitting to end this blog with a comment from one of these women:

“When I found out my wages were changing from cash, I was worried as I’ve never used anything like bKash [mobile financial services provider] before… Things have changed now… Before when I was paid in cash, I used to spend a lot as there was money in my hand, but now I’ve started to save more. Previously I had to go the market to top up airtime on my mobile phone. Now I can avoid the market crowds as I use my mobile money account to top up my airtime. I’ve also taught few of my neighbours how to use mobile money too.”

Ms. Koruna, General Sewing Machine Operator, working in an M&S supplier in Dhaka

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