Business partner: Marks & Spencer and Oxfam Clothes Exchange

Retailer and charity join up to reduce the amount of clothing sent to landfill.

It has been only a month since the launch of the Marks & Spencer and Oxfam Clothes Exchange, trailed as the UK's biggest clothing recycling campaign, but tens of thousands of donations of M&S clothes have already been made to Oxfam charity shops. In return, each donor gets a £5 voucher to spend in M&S shops.

In fact, the new influx is helping to turn Oxfam into a kind of budget M&S. Before the partnership was launched, Oxfam already sold about £3m worth of M&S garments in its 790 shops annually. Now it is the place to go for last year's lines.

The germ of the relationship lay in the high-street retailer's desire to reduce the one million tonnes of clothes that are dumped into landfill sites every year. A survey of customers revealed that they kept huge amounts of unused M&S clothes at the backs of their wardrobes. So M&S decided to forge a recycling relationship with a major charity.

Three organisations pitched for the partnership, including Oxfam. "We chose to work with Oxfam because it is a very good brand, the biggest charity shop chain in the UK; but also because it has an organisation called WasteSaver that sits behind it," says Katie Stafford, Marks & Spencer's sustainable development manager.

"That organisation manages all the recycling that can't be sold in their shops. So we can be guaranteed that none of the clothing that our customers take back goes to landfill. Oxfam is the only charity shop that has that kind of organisation behind it."

Oxfam has been talking to M&S for a decade, advising the firm on its supply chain, so the partnership was a natural extension of an existing relationship.

But before embarking on the very public relationship of the Clothes Exchange, the charity required the retailer to make an 'ethical declaration' on its track record.

David McCullough, Oxfam's trading director, says: "We vet any private sector organisation that we work with and have a very vigorous process that takes in their ethical standpoints, involvement in other countries, sourcing policy and labour standards.

"It's important for us to be very clear about the rationale for working with an organisation, and to be clear we can support that relationship."

McCullough says the partnership combines a strong commercial rationale - increasing donations - with the social purpose of reducing the amount of waste ending up in landfill.

"We are confident that M&S is trying to do the right thing," he says. "And there is a clear business case for us. If by doing this kind of thing we make consumers and retailers think about what they are doing, that's a really good combination."

The Clothes Exchange is to have an initial trial period of six months.

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