Responsible Trade & Supply Chain Transparency
The event, held at ThinkTank in Birmingham, identified common issues in the supply chain and offered potential solutions to improve the quality of goods, to minimise the environmental impact of products, and to improve working conditions and empower workers.
There is an increased demand for transparency in the supply chain from retailers and consumers following the Rana Plaza disaster earlier this year, in which 1,200 people lost their lives. A combination of corruption, ignorance and low working standards were the major cause of this particular disaster, but they are still commonplace.
As a result, retailers are increasingly looking to establish partnerships with their suppliers that promote sustainability and ethical working practices. At present, large retailers can easily exceed 100,000 plus suppliers, and therefore a scalable approach is required. As Jo Webb, the Head of Stakeholder Relations for Sedex and member of the UN Global Compact Supply Chain Sustainability Advisory Group, explained: “Risks increase further down the supply chain – whilst at the same time the capacity to address those risks decreases – it is the iceberg of non-compliances lurking beneath the surface. Focusing on first-tier suppliers only is not enough.”
“Collaboration is key. Some of the chronic supply chain issues we are seeing are endemic and no one company can solve them on their own. Duplication is still prevalent. However, if companies can treat sustainability as non-competitive issues and work together to drive convergence then more time and effort could be spent on addressing issues rather on commissioning constant audits to differing requirements,” she continued.
Major retailers are now taking action, identifying the challenges with their suppliers so that they can tackle them together, and offering greater equality to workers by encouraging open conversations at all levels.
Louise Herring, Ethical Trading Manager of Sainsbury’s, said: “We have been working with our suppliers to identify the root causes of labour issues as part of our 20/20 strategy. One example is women’s education and access to reproductive health which can be a major barrier in some developing nations. At supplier-level, our training programmes are helping women workers to understand the options available to them so that they can pursue a career and improve their standard of living”.
A major focus of the event was addressing how to assess the transparency and ethics of a supply chain to demonstrate progress and commitment to this task. Auditing has been the primary tool for decades, but it often causes overlapping of data, and can be open to bias and take considerable time to process before any action can be taken. The speakers discussed a range of alternatives, such as increased third-party site visits and consumer apps that highlight the financial and environmental cost of their products.
Rebecca Taylor, Head of Research at Responsible Trade Worldwide, said: “We are delighted with the turnout for the event. With over three billion people living on less than £1.50 per day, more than the populations of China, India and the USA combined, the time to implement bottom-up approaches and increase supply chain transparency is essential”.
With the public demanding greater transparency from retailers and employers, as well as more ethical and sustainable products, intelligent companies are now starting to enact change and events like this that promote collaboration and the sharing of ideas play a fundamental role in starting a change for the better.
Image left: Rebecca Taylor, Head of Research at Responsible Trade Worldwide