Worker Voice Technologies at the Sedex Conference 2017

This year’s Sedex AGM Conference has been a breath of fresh air as always. Far from wagging fingers at the audience to clean up their supply chains, the whole event has been eye-opening, collaborative and full of takeaway ideas.

Attending brands and suppliers were advised by conference speaker Thomas Kolster to consider their supply chains as “wayward teenagers”, with their tendencies to test boundaries with authority and operate under a veil of secrecy.

While this isn’t the case with all suppliers of course, it’s an interesting thought: If the retailer or service provider represents the principle authority figure, how can it make sure its values are passed the length of the supply chain. How do suppliers gain trust and autonomy in their trading and recruitment practices?

The brand and its manufacturers/suppliers rely on shared commitments, mutually beneficial contracts and transparent communication to avoid labour abuse risks and health & safety hazards. Keeping everything in balance, even in UK supply chains let alone global ones, is an extremely difficult task.

Time and again we’re reminded that modern slavery is rife and the appropriate legislation and monitoring isn’t yet in place, particularly beyond first tier suppliers. Although Henrietta Lake, Sainsbury’s Ethical Trading Manager, predicts that as consumers place more demands on their brands, regulation may follow which will evolve us beyond today’s ‘common understanding’ of ethical business trading.

Presenting solutions, Sedex CEO Jonathan Chapman pointed out that worker voice technologies are driving improvements in supply chain intelligence. “We’re not going to get all of the information we need from a pure survey,” he says. “We need to listen to the voice and listen to the nuance.”

As creators of a worker voice assessment platform, we of course very much support this approach. One of the reasons our customers value the tool is that it helps draw out the less black and white supply chain hotpots of abuse or exploitation. Very often, substandard working conditions can remain under the radar, only accessible by asking those experiencing the situation. Sedex’s Marianne Voss writes about this in an excellent blog post.

We look forward to summarising more thoughts from the Sedex Conference 2017 and you can keep abreast of live updates on Twitter.