People in Supply Chains

We source own-brand products from over 70 countries and over 1,600 Tier 1 supplier factories manufacture or assemble finished products for us. 

Our refreshed Purpose - ‘Working in Partnership for a happier world’ demonstrates our commitment to creating a happier world for our suppliers and the communities in which we operate. To ensure this, it is essential that every person in our supply chains, whether they grow, pick, pack or make our products, or supply services to our business, are treated fairly and are appropriately rewarded for their work. The ambition of our Human Rights Programme is to enable everyone in our supply chain to realise their fundamental human rights. We believe that championing worker voice and building strong supply chain relationships truly delivers against our Partnership purpose, creating lasting value for both our Partnership and those we work with.

Our Strategy

Our aim is to take a long-term view, working with suppliers across our supply chains, forming mutually beneficial partnerships that encourage employee engagement and improve working conditions. We develop advanced supply chain programmes to reduce salient risks, encourage better worker voice channels and enhance the experiences of workers in our supply chains.

We will collaborate with experts and other retailers to push for industry change and increase our transparency on issues in order to push for higher standards of worker welfare.

Our Existing Programmes

Since 2015 we have followed the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) to identify our highest risks and guide our action. We work with NGOs, trade unions and industry experts to identify workers most at risk and tailor our programmes to address human rights abuses in the supply chains where it is most needed. We work with suppliers to develop their knowledge and skills so they can identify and address the human rights risks in their own businesses.


Find out how we're promoting better jobs in the supply chains supplying our Partnership.

Jersey Royal Potatoes Waitrose

Read about our approach to tackling modern slavery.


The Foundation aims to improve the lives of those who grow our fresh produce and flowers overseas.


We believe farmers and workers in our supply chains deserve a fair price for their work and to benefit from good working conditions.

Our Supplier Onboarding and Due Diligence Process


We are long standing members of the Ethical Trading Initiative. Our Responsible Sourcing Code of Practice (RSCOP) mirrors the requirements of the ETI Base Code and international labour conventions. RSCOP details what is expected of all our own-brand suppliers, including terms of pay and working conditions. We seek to build lasting relationships with our suppliers and are committed to upholding human rights throughout our product and services supply chains and only work with suppliers who share our values of fairness and respect for human rights and welfare. Where issues are found we work with our suppliers on remediation and offer them support, for example, as outlined in our Child Labour Remediation Best Practice guidance.


In our own-brand supply chains all tier one supplier factories complete a self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ) on Sedex to allow us to gather vital information for understanding working conditions at the site. Collecting this data enables us to make informed decisions about the level of further due diligence required, as the answers to the questionnaire are used to produce a risk rating of either high, medium or low. For General Merchandise supplier factories, high, medium and low risk sites require an audit every one, two and three years respectively. For Food and Grocery sites, only those classified as high or medium risk require a SMETA audit, every two years and every three years respectively.


Ethical audits are undertaken using an industry-wide and internationally recognised audit methodology, SMETA (Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit). At a minimum we require a two-pillar SMETA audit that covers the nine key requirements of our RSCOP. We require all social compliance audits to be carried out by an Association of Professional Social Compliance Auditors (APSCA) certified auditor. APSCA is the professional standards body which certifies auditors’ competence and oversees the ethics and integrity of members, both audit firms and auditors. During the audit the auditor will note any good practice examples, plus observations and any non-conformances against the RSCOP. All non-conformances are given a criticality score of either minor, major, critical or business critical. Once complete, the audit is given a green, amber or red rating that determines whether the site is compliant with our Ethical Compliance Policy. Sites with a red-rated audit are non-compliant to our policy and considered in breach of the RSCOP. All sites, no matter the audit grading, must take corrective actions to resolve non-conformances within the timeframe specified on the audit. These actions are verified either online or in-person by the auditor to formally ‘close’ the nonconformances identified in the initial audit.. 


This process, alongside additional sources of information, such as in-country risk assessments, provide a valuable snapshot of our supply chain working conditions and helps us tailor our ethical trade programmes to address issues in high risk sectors and regions.

The goods suppliers we use for Goods Not For Resale (GNFR) provide products such as: IT hardware; hygiene materials; fork lift trucks and services such as advertising, photography and temporary agency workers. We have an internal supplier on-boarding team who verify that these suppliers have agreed to comply with RSCOP. 


GNFR also includes services, and we have a programme of independent third party site based assessments, to assess the experience of our agency workers against the requirements of RSCOP.  Where gaps are identified we will collaboratively address these with suppliers.


Despite our comprehensive due diligence programme, we recognise that systemic labour violations still exist throughout global supply chains, especially in situations when local law and its implementation does not adequately protect workers’ rights. Our policies and practices have a strong role to play in ensuring that workers in our supply chains have a positive, fair and safe work experience. Our policies are shared with our suppliers and their compliance against these is regularly reported. We support our suppliers to engage with various programmes such as our Better Jobs Programme, the Bangladesh Accord, and the Pakistan Accord.


Worker Grievance Mechanisms

Robust grievance mechanisms are important for workers to report any issues they witness or encounter within the workplace. The mechanisms for raising grievances and the quality of proposed remedies are not always the same for every worker. For example, the success of grievance mechanisms may be limited by language barriers, contractual issues for temporary and agency workers, and trust barriers for those who have had their grievances handled poorly in the past. Women often face additional barriers when accessing effective grievance mechanisms, for example they may be restricted from joining a trade union simply because of their gender.


Workers in our supply chains are encouraged to report any issues they encounter in the workplace through site-level grievance mechanisms or to use external hotlines such as Stronger Together, or other third party organisations. In the UK, we encourage our suppliers to promote the Modern Slavery Helpline to workers and to ensure workers have access to apps which provide them with grievance channels, including the Just Good Work App.


The Partnership supports suppliers to strengthen their site-level grievance mechanisms whilst involving workers in their design and implementation. We particularly recognise that gender related grievances may be sensitive. Where there are restrictions on women joining trade unions, or there are few or no female workers’ representatives, suppliers must ensure that views and opinions of women are properly advanced and addressed. To strengthen the grievance raising process for women, we encourage our suppliers to have union representation, or an equivalent, at all sites, as it is usually a site's internal grievance mechanism that is the most effective at resolving worker concerns.


We are currently undertaking a number of projects that aim to improve access to effective grievance mechanisms and improve remedial action for issues or concerns raised in our high risk supply chains; Find out more in our 2024 Human Rights Report.

Achieving Gender Equality


Even in countries where equality is a legal requirement, women still face more barriers than men. Poverty, discrimination, access to education and violence against women are major barriers to opportunity. Women often lack the protection of basic rights and laws. As nearly half of the workers in our supply chains are women, it is important for us to play our part in combating gender inequality.  


Women are often in lower paid positions and often have more precarious employment than men. Although women work in a variety of the Partnerships supply chains, the proportion of male to female workers differs depending on the tier of the supply chain, the country, and the industry. Women also often make up the majority of the workforce in home working situations. Our RSCOP outlines ethical standards suppliers must adhere to and as part of our ongoing ethical trade work we tailor supply chain programmes to assess where the greatest risks to workers’ rights and non compliance to RSCOP might be.


Our supply chain programmes - the Waitrose Foundation and our Better Jobs Programme - also provide support for female workers. 


The Waitrose Foundation delivers programmes to support women’s economic empowerment and provides training and capability building across the 9 countries in which it operates. 


Through our Better Jobs survey, we have applied a ‘gender lens’ to help us understand how gender differences can impact how people experience working conditions, and how this might be redressed. 


Since 2022, the John Lewis Partnership has been a signatory to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs). The Principles present seven steps that businesses can take to advance and empower women in the workplace and are helping us achieve our goals by guiding our journey and facilitating knowledge sharing to ensure gender-inclusive supply chains


Although we have increased our own advocacy work for women’s rights, we know there is still a long way to go. We have worked with various implementation partners, from Farm Africa to ActionAid and The Centre for Child Rights & Business, to deliver informative and beneficial programmes for female workers across our supply chains. But the work to address challenges faced by women does not stop here. We are committed to continuing our work around understanding gender balance in our supply chains and how we can help empower women and improve their opportunities.

Supporting Homeworkers

Homeworking can really benefit workers, giving them the opportunity to have maximum flexibility and support balancing work and care responsibilities. Products made by homeworkers are also valuable to the Partnership as they are mostly handmade and can often include intricate beading work.


The Partnership acknowledges, and welcomes, the existence of homeworkers in the supply chain, but recognise that working conditions in homeworking situations can be poor. We take a proactive approach to ensuring transparency around homeworking within our supply chains. We communicate our position on homeworkers throughout our company, and to suppliers; we commit to ensure that the disclosure of homeworkers in the supply chain will not lead to the relocation of work or cancellation of orders; and we work with our suppliers to ensure working conditions for homeworkers are fair and in line with the principles laid out in RSCOP.

Supporting Smallholder Farmers

Smallholder farmers are imperative to deliver the range of food we stock at the partnership. Many of our best loved products like tea, coffee, chocolate and vegetables are grown by smallholder farmers. However, these farmers are often the most vulnerable because of low incomes, and a lack of access to finance and agricultural expertise. We also know that these farmers are likely to be among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 


The Partnership believes that farmers and workers in our supply chain deserve to earn a fair price for their work, which is why we support Fairtrade, and have done since 1994, when we became one of the first retailers to stock Fairtrade products. We sell more than 200 Fairtrade products, including bananas, coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate and wine, and Waitrose offers the largest range of own-label Fairtrade products of any physical UK supermarket.


Through the Waitrose Foundation we are working to support increased resilience of smallholder farmers. For example we have provided new irrigation equipment to outgrowers in Senegal which pump water all day, solar-powered cooling stations in Kenya to keep produce higher quality for longer which increases income, and microloans to support smallholders diversify their incomes. Over the next few years we have identified climate change as a priority area to address in Foundation farms and have committed to investing £1m in programmes that support farmers and workers adapt to changing climates and become more resilient. Learn more about the work of the Waitrose Foundation.


Decent wages and a fair system of value distribution are also important to ensuring smallholder farmers are able to cover their basic living costs, plan for emergencies and live a happy life. One example of our activity to improve smallholder income is our partnership with the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) to identify the living wage in our banana supply chain, which is currently made up of a number of larger plantations, alongside an estimated 1,400 smallholder farmers. This work will enable us to understand the gap between current incomes and living wage, and move towards closing this gap. 


We cannot solve all of the issues smallholder farmers face alone. This is why efforts are also required by governments to ensure that small-scale farmers are resilient and prosperous, earn a living income and receive a fair share of the value accumulated in food supply chains. 


We will continue to use our voice to advocate for improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers across all of our supply chains.

Promoting a ‘Just Transition’

We are already witnessing the devastating impact that climate change is having on global supply chains and surrounding communities. Our Partnership commits to reduce our negative impact and has already set a number of ambitious targets. However, we recognise that people and the planet are interconnected and we are committed to ensuring that our Partnership’s climate mitigation strategy and associated decision making does not come at the expense of existing farmers and workers supplying our Partnership. 


As part of this commitment we have worked with government and NGO partners to research and understand the potential positive and negative impacts of our net zero ambitions on women workers in our East African supply chain. Using the findings from the research and a needs assessment, we are piloting projects to improve climate resilience whilst enabling greater economic empowerment and leadership roles for women. We aim to scale up our learnings across our wider supply base.