At the Sustainable Supply Chain Summit, hosted by Ethical Corporation two weeks ago, participants and speakers alike highlighted some of the issues, challenges and lessons when getting to grips with your organisation’s supply chain. Here is an overview of some of them and our thoughts:
- Finding the right partners to collaborate with is tricky. Nonetheless, collaboration, when done properly, will be fruitful for all those involved. Just ask Sophi Tranchell from Divine, the chocolate maker owned 40% by Ghanian cocoa farmers, who gave kudos to endorsement from Coop and O2. Or Ikea, on its successful pioneering of the Better Cotton Initiative along with Marks & Spencer, H&M and other major retailers.
- Linked to the first point is the issue of what supply chain problems to prioritise and how to reconcile sometimes conflicting demands from diverse NGOs and campaigners. Novatel highlighted the need for NGOs to collaborate more closely with each other before approaching corporates. Oxfam endorsed a hybrid approach of campaigning and collaboration and support. Thus, it is important to focus on those NGOs who:
- specialise in areas where you organisation has greatest impacts; and
- want to assist behaviour change practically and not merely point out the weaknesses in an organisation’s supply chain
- Why only us big companies? Surely the cumulative impact of all the small to mid-cap companies is much higher? It is true that perhaps many smaller companies’ negative impacts or unethical behaviour might go completely unnoticed and that they need to change as much as any other larger organisation. However, along with greater reward and power comes greater responsibility. It’s not just about large companies’ supply chains tending to be more complex and changes thereby having a wider reach. As market leaders, large multinational corporations have to set the example and use their influence to positive ends – raising the profile of issues and assuming control. They also have the means to educate and influence how their SME suppliers operate.
- Averting PR crises and negative media. As Novatel highlighted, it is important to recognise that no supply chain is 100% clean – the “happy egg” fiasco in 2012 is an example close to home. The advice from Ethical Trading Initiative was loud and clear: be prepared and practice. Think about how your organisation would address a supply chain issue brought to its attention under public and high profile circumstances. Step 1 is, once again, about assuming responsibility – assert your organisation’s serious stance and say that the matter will be looked into. It’s also about sticking to that promise and using it as an opportunity to implement change and ensure continuous improvement.
In many ways there were no surprises at the conference with big names leading the charge. Those who have been ‘doing sustainability’ for over 3 years, clearly gaining more traction and being able to show the Return on Investment on sustainability initiatives, including better supply chain management. Marks & Spencer, in particular, continued to stress the importance of changing internal culture and not losing sight or enthusiasm – “there is no plan B”.
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