Know your suppliers!

Issue 79 - January | February 2019

Implementing sustainable supply chains starts with knowing your own supply chain, says Europe's head of global NGO, BSR, Tara Norton.

Tara Norton, BSR Business Social Responsibility
Tara Norton, BSR Business Social Responsibility
Which companies or sectors do you think about sustainable supply chains first?
NortonSustainable supply chain management is important to any business of any industry and size. Consumer goods companies - retail and apparel, fresh produce, food and beverages, consumer electronics - often use more visible programs, but all companies benefit from managing the social, environmental and governance performance of their suppliers, as many examples show.

What role do consumers play?

Norton: They want to know more about where the products and services they buy come from, and they ask companies to provide that information. In the B2B sector, global brands often play a similar role as they require their suppliers to provide information about their social and environmental impact. In addition, regulators, investors and civil society organizations can play an important role in persuading companies to manage their supply chains well.

What are the positive drivers of development? When was the first effort?

Norton: Modern sustainable supply chain management can be traced back to the 1990 years. At the time, some consumer brands came under fire and consumers and activists called for them to take responsibility for working conditions in their supply chain. Of course, risk management goes back even further in time. The positive drivers are that companies benefit when they know their supply chains better - for example, by strengthening relationships with strategic suppliers, increasing product traceability, securing supply on a case-by-case basis, and being able to drive the business forward.

What role does transparency play?

Norton: We have seen many cases where transparency - that is, disclosure of what happens along the supply chain - drives positive behavioral change. In addition, it is required by customers or consumers. And last but not least, because of the high level of data availability, it is highly likely that someone else will provide transparency if the company itself does not.

What role does technology play in achieving sustainable supply chains?

Norton: Technology is one of the levers with which we can achieve our goals, but it does not solve problems by itself. There are a number of great examples of technology being used in new ways to achieve long-term goals - I think of satellite use from Nestlé for rainforest monitoring, to Fishcoin, the use of Blockchain for sustainable fishing, or "Tech Against Trafficking", a coalition of IT companies to stop human trafficking.

How can the success of digitizing sustainable supply chains be measured?

NortonMany companies are trying new things and we would like to see more of them. Digitalization is a top priority for many purchasing managers, but it depends on whether sustainability is integrated. The supply chain leaders - for example, according to the Gartner ranking - usually also have leading sustainability programs. So that can go hand in hand.

What is your advice for achieving a sustainable supply chain?

NortonThe biggest challenge is that companies focus on knowing their supply chain and the biggest issues they are facing. We also recommend spending time to find out if there is a good source of information about the suppliers. Starting from this base it is easy to overcome other obstacles.

Many thanks for the interview!

Photo: Black

To the main story

corporAID Magazine 79: Digital Vision

Digital perspective

Transparency is the new maxim in supply chain management, digital technologies push the trend. Mondi demonstrates how a global corporation can go there. Pioneering in the retail sector is provided by the Hofer retail chain in Austria.