Sustainable Difference

Sedex 2018 provided an eye-opening insight to the challenges facing business, as well clues on how to tackle them. Gordon Glenister reports.

Life beyond compliance was the theme of the Sedex Conference this year. This is the first time I had been to the Sedex Conference and I have to say there were some powerful messages coming out of it. For those of you that don’t know Sedex stands for the Supplier and Ethical Data Exchange and is made up of more than 50,000 members in 140 countries representing brands in the entire supply chain. We have a number of our members also Sedex approved, and I was delighted to say the BPMA was official media partner.

Sustainability is an area of concern for our planet and we all have a duty of responsibility to consider how we manage waste, employ people ethically, and manage our supply chain properly. However, having numerous suppliers and limited in-house resources can overwhelm a supply chain management team making it difficult to spot potential risks.

The scale of issues can be overwhelming and there were some shocking statistics revealed at the conference. Some 7.5million people have been displaced in the past year since the war in Syria; the UK has some of the most polluted rivers in the world; we recycle less than 10% of what we consume; eight million tonnes of waste is dumped in our oceans every year; seven million hectares of land have gone through logging.

Modern slavery is of growing concern. In just two hours, 400 people will have been sold to slave labour and there are over 2.7 million deaths in the workplace every year. In fact, there are more than 45 million victims of slave labour across the world, including 13,000 in the UK.

Taking a lead

The recent news about banning single use plastics isn’t going away and this could have an impact on the promotional merchandise industry. TV broadcaster Sky has agreed to ban the use of single plastics in its supply chain from 2020. Our industry is notoriously poor at compliance both from an awareness and execution point of view, but many of the bigger operators on both the supplier and distributor side are realising it is an essential part of their operations.

Increasingly, it is being driven by the big corporates demanding it. Marks & Spencer is an excellent example of using social compliance effectively through its supply chain. Its ‘Plan A, because there is no Plan B’ project, is a major part of its corporate communications. Such ethical compliance should not simply be a tickbox exercise to win business but a way of changing the visions and values of an organisation.

Ignorance is no defence

Dutch prosecutor Dr Warner ten Kate shared some amazing test cases that involved corporations that have been fined and CEOs imprisoned for allowing slave labour. Even if workers accept their working conditions, if their employers are not abiding by international European standards, then it is no defence. He gave the example of major retail chains being caught out because they were indirectly employing lorry drivers that were from Romania on a lower rate of pay with very poor conditions, such as staying in the cabs for weeks on end. Ignorance is no defence – companies need better processes to demonstrate the integrity of their supply lines.

Another concern for workplace absence is stress. In 2017 alone 526,000 people suffered illness arising from work-related stress and depression, costing 12.5m lost working days. In China 40% of workers report that they are negatively affected by stress.

Making a change

Enforcement agencies are keen to work with organisations that can affect change. In principle this has to be about driving the 4Ps: prevention, prosecution, protection, and partnership.

Major broadcasters have also played their part in uncovering problems in factories for, example the JD Sports and Apple cases spring to mind, but there will be others. The damage in reputation for these organisations can be considerable. Arguably, we all have to work together in improving the status quo.

So, what can you do to ensure you work with ethical suppliers? When was the last time you audited your supply chain? If you work with a major client, you need to know that you can rely on your suppliers to deliver. How do you know they don’t have slave labour? How do you know the products are legally compliant and meet all European standards? What is your risk exposure if your client has a problem?

Research conducted by DNV Viewpoint 2016 says that for 1 in 3 businesses sustainability matters to a great extent and buying decisions can be considered around this. However, only a very small percentage of organisations have reached out to all the tiers in their supply chain, although 42% have addressed this with their tier 1 suppliers. It’s not an issue that will go away though – the research found 72% of those surveyed said that the pressure for a more sustainable supply chain will only increase.

So, what can you do to affect change? For one, you can demand to see an ethical audit or Smeta, consider joining the BPMA and definitely join the BPMA charter programme. A factory worker that’s engaged with their employer and feels that their opinions are valued can have a profound effect on productivity and wellbeing.


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