The John Lewis Partnership is a long-term, award-winning pioneer in sustainability reporting. When the UK government introduced the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, the Partnership characteristically wanted to go beyond compliance in how it addressed this urgent human rights issue. The law demanded a statement. We helped them create a standalone Human Rights Report.


Forced and exploitative labour is one of the hidden scandals of modern business, where complex global supply chains can obscure human rights abuses. The UK’s Modern Slavery Act (2015) makes it compulsory for large companies to prepare a statement on their efforts to ensure their supply chain is free from such abuses. The John Lewis Partnership is founded on equitable business ownership and practice, and so embraced the legislation as an opportunity to give greater visibility to this issue.

A straight-talking statement

The Partnership wanted our advice on the human rights reporting landscape, and how to employ best practice in setting out its policies and priorities in this area. We proposed running a human rights communications workshop for the Partnership’s sustainability teams in Waitrose and John Lewis brands.

We used the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGP) Reporting Framework to guide the approach. We then worked with John Lewis Partnership to communicate their priority areas in the wider context of human rights issues, and the Partnership's own founding principles and history. 

Keeping people visible

Clarity of purpose, as well as the breadth and depth of the problem, were important themes to bring out. Rejecting spin for a straight-talking statement of what is at stake, it is entitled: ‘Upholding the rights of the people who grow, make, sell and buy our products’. We carried this straightforwardness through in the design and layout of the report, using a ‘cutout’ illustration style, to bring it in line with John Lewis Partnership’s reporting suite, but also kept the human factor clearly visible, by bringing customers, Partners and suppliers within the same illustrative framework.

The publication of John Lewis Partnership’s Human Rights Report positions the organisation as one of only a handful of early adopters of the United Nations Guiding Principles Reporting Framework.

Building Public Trust in Corporate Reporting Award for ‘excellence in reporting’ in Private Business – Highly commended

The winner of last year’s inaugural award for private business is highly commended this time, for a well-integrated and easily navigable annual report that sets out its performance for the year in a highly understandable way using simple questions. The new 10-year strategy starting from the next financial year is clearly explained, with references to several members of the leadership team providing a sense of ownership and accountability. The reporting of sustainability and governance is also impressive, including linkage between sustainability and strategy, and a useful ‘heat map’ of the business’s principal risks. One judge commented: “I find this reporting compelling: it flows well, it explains the business clearly, and it’s coherent throughout.”

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