Supply Chain Transparency Through the Worker Voice

Supply chains - it seems as though not a week goes by without a supply chain scandal breaking the news. Whether it be connected to the meat we’re eating, the t-shirts we’re wearing or the smart phones we’re tweeting from, we hear of corruption, archaic working conditions and slavery from the production end, to our very homes. So why does it keep happening when the lessons should have been learned by now?

In the fast-paced and diverse modern world we live in, the demand for consumer goods is at an all-time high, making easily accessible, locally produced products an unattainable goal for retailers. Supply chains traverse the globe with products travelling thousands of miles from initial production to being scanned in the store, or shipped from the warehouse. Apple’s iPhone is a prime (and infamous) example, the components of the latest batch of iPhone's together travel approximately 500,000 (half a million!) miles before reaching your pocket.

With supply chains so long and convoluted, and retailers often not knowing who they are connected to, it’s almost surprising that there aren’t more frequent scandals. It poses the question: What goes on that we don’t know about?

We all remember the 2013 horse meat scandal, and it might come as a shock that this was just one of many well-hidden, and equally despicable scandals within the food industry in the past few years. Exploding water melons, toxic beansprouts, glow-in-the-dark meat, and more recently, infected salad leaves are just a few of the reported incidents in the last five years. Although we have learnt from such scandals and established the National Food Crime Unit in 2014 to uncover such incidents, we are still have a long way in preventing such incidents, proven by recent warnings that the horsemeat scandal could happen again soon due to lack of routine testing.

How do we even start to uncover the hidden horrors of our ever-growing supply chains? The answer lies in achieving transparency through the supply chain workers themselves. The key to avoiding scandal is a transparent supply chain, with an honest account of organisational culture and practices communicated up and down its length.

And what is more honest and transparent than asking the workers who operate inside supply chain, day in, day out?

Suppliers may appear to be compliant, dutifully completing their social compliance audits, but supply chains need to move from solely relying on these outdated, and often skewed audits to social engagement by listening to what the workers have to say, and improve the perception the workforce has by increasing awareness of what’s going on in the company they work for.

We believe the future of supply chain transparency lies in taking a step beyond compliance through listening to the worker voice for a complete bottom-up, top-down view of the business. Companies should be encouraged to do as much as they can to ensure safe, fair and happy working conditions, especially now, since the UK Modern Slavery Act came into force last year, which requires many organisations to publicly disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking throughout their supply chains.

Supply chain transparency is no longer an option, it’s a necessity.

To gain a vast and honest insight into your supply chain by listening to what your workforce has to say, check out our RTW Assessment, which has proven to increase organisational transparency and foster both internal and external growth.

What is your view? Feel free to comment on our blog, share your thoughts or contact us at info@responsibletradeworldwide.com.