Social Sustainability

Social Sustainability 

The future of fashion relies on people – the people who make clothes, the farmers who grow the crops for our materials, our employees and our customers. We want to have a positive impact on everyone we depend on and for those who depend on us in return. 

We understand that as a business, we have a responsibility to respect human rights. We follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to guide us towards best practice in this area. We believe everybody in our supply chain should be treated with respect and dignity. We also believe each person should earn a fair wage and be recognised and valued equally. We aim to build modern and resilient supply chains that provide desirable jobs, foster people’s skills, strengthen workers’ voices and advocate for vulnerable groups.  

We build open and collaborative relationships with our suppliers and take the time to understand the complexities and contexts of our sourcing regions. We engage with other brands, NGOs, industry experts and other local stakeholders with the intention to manage impacts on people proactively and operate in the most responsible way possible. We are committed to playing our part in helping to create a better and more equal world, as envisioned in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  

social sustainability

Our standards 

Our standards are based on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and industry best practice. In 2019, we launched a new set of policies and guidelines to our suppliers outlining our requirements and expectations relating to social sustainability. These include our Supplier Code of Conduct, Responsible Sourcing Guide, Modern Slavery Policy and Subcontracting Policy.  


These policies outline the standards we expect our suppliers to uphold to ensure everyone in our supply chain is treated fairly and with respect. We understand that sometimes our suppliers might need support to comply with our standards and are committed to providing guidance and, where needed, training so that they can make improvements and ensure workers’ rights and wellbeing are protected. 

Our suppliers 

We source our materials and products through a carefully selected network of global suppliers, many of which have worked with us since Stella McCartney was founded in 2001. In 2019, we collaborated with 77 manufacturing suppliers and 400 Tier 2 product suppliers globally.  


Our supply chain is predominantly composed of small workshops that specialise in specific techniques and processes – for example, in Europe, the average number of workers in a facility is 37. Italy is our biggest and most important sourcing country, representing over 65% of raw material and finished goods production. 


More information about our supply chain, key sourcing countries and due diligence processes can be found in our Modern Slavery Statement, published annually. 

The Modern Slavery Act is a law that was passed in the UK in 2015 to address cases of modern slavery. One part of the Act applies to businesses and requires regular reporting as well as greater transparency on what is being done to ensure modern slavery does not exist in operations or supply chains. 

Supplier monitoring and driving positive change  

Each of our suppliers is unique. We always aim to build a personal relationship with them and work together to understand their practices and systems.  

Before we start working with a new supplier, we visit and assess their practices against our standards. Where we identify room for improvement, we work with them to address root causes of issues. Sometimes, immediate action must be taken to ensure workers’ rights are not infringed and we will take urgent steps to rectify any serious issues identified.  

Although we choose not to rely on social compliance assessments alone because we recognise their limits, we have found that they can prove a useful tool in gaining insight into our suppliers’ practices and potential risks in our supply chain – especially when we begin to work with a new partner. Assessments help us to collect data and address immediate issues as well as pick up on indicators that may highlight complex embedded issues. Throughout any investigation and remediation process, we aim to protect workers wellbeing and their livelihoods and work with suppliers to ensure this. Should a supplier not engage and strive to meet our standards and resolve any identified issues within a given time period, we may consider terminating our business relationship or, for proposed suppliers, not initiate production.  

Once a supplier is included within our supply chain, we look for ways to support and work together to build better working conditions for the workers who make our products. We implement improvement projects that build better systems within suppliers’ operations and supply chains to meet the needs of workers. These projects focus on resolving root causes of endemic issues, building better people management systems, supplier training and enhancing worker voice. More information on our improvement projects to date can be found in our Eco Impact Report 2020

Social Sustainability

Our collaborative approach 

We believe in the power of collaboration and working together. That’s why, when we find endemic and complex issues in our supply chain, we look to partner with local experts, civil society organisations, likeminded brands and suppliers to bring about long-lasting change. We do this because we recognise that we cannot solve these systemic problems on our own. 

We have been a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) since 2012. This leading alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs promotes respect for workers’ rights globally and enables brands to work alongside NGOs and trade unions to improve conditions for workers in their supply chains, and we have used the ETI Base Code as the basis of our Supplier Code of Conduct. As part of our membership and overall brand due diligence, we complete a detailed annual reporting to the ETI and have held a Leader status since 2018.   

Looking forward, we believe more collaborative initiatives and the sharing of challenges and opportunities is key to creating sustainable change within complex supply chains.