A swathe of top retailers including John Lewis, M&S and Sainsbury’s have signed up to an action plan aimed at driving sustainability, development and equality.

They are among a host of companies backing the new Better Retail, Better World campaign, which has been launched today by the British Retail Consortium.

The project aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and waste, support all people to enter and progress in employment, and lead the fight to eradicate modern slavery.

It will kick off today at a House of Commons event hosted by BRC chairman Richard Pennycook and retail minister Andrew Griffiths – the co-chairs of the recently launched retail sector council.

So far, a total of 25 retailers including Kingfisher, Next, Dixons Carphone, Boots, Debenhams, Aldi and the Co-op have signed up to the accord, which sets a series of targets to be achieved by 2020. It uses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a framework.

The programme calls for supply chain oversight to safeguard against worker exploitation. It also urges companies to disclose steps they are taking to ensure workers from under-represented demographics progress in employment.

The initiative builds on the BRC’s A Better Retailing Climate initiative, which contains a set of environmental targets mainly based on retail operations.

Pennycook said: “It is time for the retail industry to show what it can do for the common good.

“We are taking collective action to build a better, more prosperous and sustainable world, and demonstrating how we are making a positive contribution to society, in terms of the supply chain, food packaging and waste.”

Co-op chief executive Steve Murrells added: “We all recognise that co-operation at a local and global level will be at the heart of delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Better Retail, Better World is so important in helping the UK retail sector to play its role in this.”

The list of high street names backing Better Retail, Better World also includes Clarks, DFS, Fenwick, Greggs, House of Fraser, Ikea, Lidl, Morrisons, Ocado, WHSmith and Wilko.