The role of benchmarking in eliminating forced labour from global corporate supply chains
From seafood fished in Thailand, to cotton picked in Uzbekistan – the supply chains of many everyday products can be traced to people forced to work in inhuman conditions. The International Labour Organisation estimates that $150 billion in profits are generated in the private economy each year from forced labour.
Just as there was an incontestable moral imperative to end historical slavery, there is also a need to end its modern-day forms, which are endemic to our global economic system.
So, what are companies doing about this? There are laudable examples of action. Nestlé recently launched a detailed action plan on responsible sourcing of seafood from Thailand. In 2014, Apple required its suppliers to reimburse nearly $3.96 million to over 4,500 factory workers for excessive recruitment fees. But a few strong examples of action by market leaders are not enough.
A report released this week by KnowtheChain, in which the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre is a partner, assesses 20 companies’ policies and practices on supply chain forced labour. The report provides a “transparency snapshot” across three industries: food and beverage, apparel and footwear, and information and communications technology (ICT).
It found that 17 of the 20 have a formal corporate policy on supply chain forced labour and trafficking, demonstrating that they recognise the importance of the issue. However, only five provide evidence of how those policies are made available to vulnerable parties including workers, and only three conduct interviews with subcontracted personnel.
Most of the companies have a grievance mechanism at company level, yet only a third require their suppliers to do so. And there is a long way to go on supply chain transparency, with 4 of the 20 companies disclosing the names and locations of their first-tier suppliers.
Building on this pilot report, in 2016 KnowtheChain will benchmark companies, by sector, on their efforts to exclude forced labour from their supply chains. Companies will be compared in areas such as supply chain traceability, business relationships, recruitment practices, worker communication, monitoring, grievance procedures and remedy.
There is increasing recognition that benchmarks can play a powerful role in changing corporate behaviour. They can encourage companies to respect human rights by harnessing the competitive nature of markets to drive a “race to the top.” The Access to Medicines Index and Behind the Brands have both led to clear improvements in conduct by pharmaceutical and food companies, respectively.
In a 2014 survey of senior business executives, the Economist Intelligence Unit reported that the largest proportion of respondents considered benchmarking companies as the factor that would make the greatest difference on their approach to human rights.
Of course, benchmarking companies is part of a much broader ecosystem of action needed to address forced labour. Drivers of forced labour on the corporate side include pressures for low costs and just-in-time delivery. Additional drivers include inequality within and between countries, a lack of government oversight and corruption. No company acting alone can address this dynamic fully.
At the same time, progress cannot be made without serious corporate engagement and action. With the recent entry into force of the UK Modern Slavery Act and the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, companies are increasingly expected to report on the ways in which they are combating forced labour in their supply chains. Investors and civil society will be quick to identify those that have little of substance to report.
Through KnowtheChain’s benchmarking work, we hope to recognise advances by leaders, incentivise laggard companies to improve, as well as contribute to systemic change across the industries with high risks of modern-day slavery.
Written by Phil Bloomer, Executive Director of Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, London
SOURCE: [Business & Human Rights Resource Centre]
NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience
Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.
The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.
A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach
“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.
“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.
But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?
“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.
Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes
So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry.
“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”
Evolving Procurement Models
From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view.
“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.
“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”
“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”
But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?
“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.
These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.
On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”
He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”
As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”