The global retail and supply industry sits on a highly tangled - matted, even - web of supply chain threads. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that the associated lack of transparency and communication can lead to scandals, accidents, poor working conditions and labour violations.
From factory fires and building collapses, to slaves being kept under our noses in the UK, we need to ask, are we doing enough? Our traditional supply chain audit and compliance methods are not wrong, but we are still failing to identify the root cause of fundamental issues within our global supply chains.
For the future of the retail and supply industry to remain profitable and tragedy free, we can no longer be afraid of the truth; a long term commitment is required to create greater transparency around the practices and process within our supply chains.
Audits are a useful tool but only part of the solution - measuring offers results, but it does not create sustained change, which can only come from understanding what’s happening at each and every stage of the supply chain.
Does a new approach need to be considered?
A past BBC programme, Panorama - Dying for a Bargain, uncovered examples of labour standard violations. It was identified that many factory managers keep two sets of timesheet books, one for the retailers and a ‘private’ one with the actual hours worked. The programme stated: “These retailers’ so-called audits really don't work. Hiding hours in this way is common. Workers will have 5 hours’ sleep after a 12-hour day and start again.” And these sort of occurrences are surely not a thing of the past.
Apple have recently come under fire again for poor working conditions in one of their supplier factories in Shanghai, Pegatron, who are producing the latest iPhones. Reports of excessive and illegal overtime, low wages and unfair treatment have been exposed. This has not helped Apples reputation whatsoever, deservedly so, especially following historical reports of conditions at one of their other major manufacturers, Foxconn which highlighted shocking practices of underage children making products in the factories, and multiple worker suicides due to poor conditions and management.
How are poor practices such as these happening in such a modern, financially-stable and powerful company? Is it well hidden or is Apple turning a blind eye?
“Through outsourcing, Apple lowers its production cost, but this is only possible by exploiting workers. Apple is the real reason working conditions are deteriorating.”
Things need to change. Apple, and the majority of other large retailers, need to take responsibility for their entire supply chain, and put practices in place to ensure fair, safe and legal working conditions for all workers. They cannot rely on the word of an external supplier or a remote auditor and then wait for a potential exposé. They need to implement a strategy first-hand to ensure legitimacy and to be able get a quick handle on any issues that are unearthed.
So what could this strategy be? How do we uncover the truth and tackle the issues head on, when existing methods often create an environment of fear, with the validity of the data sometimes questionable?
Responsible Trade Worldwide has developed a tool that offers unique insight into global supply chains by capturing a top-down and bottom-up view of an organisation and their supply chain via multi-lingual worker assessments, and metrics linked to employment practices and working conditions. By engaging workers we enable them to anonymously share their thoughts, feelings and views about their employer, and the surroundings in which they work, gaining unprecedented insight into a workplace, and supply chain.
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