Episode #4: Taking risks to tackle human rights with Chris Harrop of Marshalls

02 October 2018

Chris Harrop of Marshalls plc

In this episode, I talk to Chris Harrop, the group marketing director and the head of sustainability for Marshalls plc.

In addition to those roles, Chris is chairman of Made in Britain, and was formerly chairman of the UN Global Compact UK network. He’s a non-executive director of the Ethical Trading Initiative. He was named as a Hero of Sustainability by Ethical Corporation in 2007, and a Business Game Changer by Business in the Community in 2012.

We talk about the dramatic pivotal moment when he knew he had to take a lead in tackling child labour in Indian sandstone – and the mistakes that he feels they made at the start in attempting to tackle that most difficult of issues. We discuss the incredible and creative ways Marshalls is now building sustainability into its products, and share some reflections on how to be influential and make a difference in your career.

I have counted Chris as a friend for many years, and I regard him as one of my personal heroes for the commitment he’s brought to tackling some of the most difficult issues a company can deal with. In the early days, he was leading the fight on child labour and it was by no means obvious that Marshalls would be able to survive in the marketplace with a product that was necessarily going to be a third more expensive than that of its competitors. It was a commercial risk, with no guarantees of success.

Show notes

Chris’s personal sense of purpose (2:18)

What did the world look like to the young Chris Harrop? (4:14)

Early influences – successful marketing based on truth (7:14)

What Chris learned from his time at Shell (8:32)

How things began to change when Chris joined Marshalls (10:40)

How the use of Indian sandstone raised questions about child labour (13:55)

Marshalls early attempts to fix the problems, and what was learned (17:15)

When the consequences of fixing the problem is increased costs to the business (20:28)

Where are they now, after the lessons have been learned? (22:03)

Do measures to improve supply chain integrity also help improve quality? (23:50)

How Fairstone was introduced to communicate the value of ethical stone to the customer (25:14)

How Marshalls built environmental and social concerns into its future-facing products (28:52)

Developing for customer needs that they don’t necessarily see yet (34:12)

The unusual position of being both head of marketing and sustainability (36:42)

How is the broader base of business changing in the face of sustainability and ethical challenges? (39:51)

Is Chris optimistic about the progress we’re making towards sustainability? (42:24)

There is always space for people to step in and make a difference, rather than waiting for government to do it for you (44:26)

The advice Chris would give to his younger self (46:47)

Who are some impressive change-makers, and why? (47:06)

Mistakes that have given lessons and led to positive outcomes (48:33)

Chris’s favourite book of all time (49:19)

What advice would you give to young would-be change-makers who are just starting out on the journey? (50:14)


Chris on Twitter https://twitter.com/marshalls_chris

Marshalls Sustainability https://www.marshalls.co.uk/sustainability

The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy https://amzn.to/2xPOIpJ

The UN Global Compact UK Network https://www.unglobalcompact.org.uk