Ethical sourcing - how is it done?
Some businesses have taken a lead in ethical sourcing, but others still have much to do in this area – and many need practical guidance on adopting an ethical sourcing approach.
Report from – Tom Harvey
It is not easy now to find businesses that are unfamiliar with the concept of ethically sourcing materials, products and people – or believe it to be controversial. This issue has been established long enough for leaders to have emerged in the construction and other business sectors, but it’s clear that some businesses are falling behind and may be unsure about what steps to take.
“Those organisations wanting to adopt ethical practices are asking: How do I embed ethical sourcing into my business? Do I need to change anything? What do I do first?” says Professor Jacqui Glass of Loughborough University’s School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering, and Founder of the APRES (Action Programme on Responsible and Ethical Sourcing) network.
“When you look at most current guidance documents on responsible sourcing,” says Professor Glass, “they are focussed on the product that one is attempting to certify, not on the broader business changes needed to make best use of a more responsible attitude towards product specification or procurement.”
A ‘how to’ guide to ethical sourcing
To deal with this need for practical guidance, the idea of producing a ‘White Paper’ on ethical sourcing was raised at the 6th Annual Conference of the APRES network in November 2016. Based on the experiences of those leading on this issue, the White Paper has now been published and will be presented at the network's 2017 conference in London on 22 November.
“There was a clear industry pull for a new business ‘how to’ guide, presenting practical steps to take in your business,” says Professor Glass. “The APRES White Paper provides straightforward advice on what building contractors, clients, product distributors and professional bodies should do to move from baseline to best practice – starting today.
“This short document sets out eight steps to ethical sourcing, covering issues from management systems and financial management, through communications, procurement and innovation, right up to boardroom considerations. It is designed to reflect a typical business structure, and while it’s angled towards construction, much of the guidance given is transferable to other sectors.”
One of the topics being addressed in the While Paper and at this year’s APRES Conference, is modern slavery – an issue that sharply illustrates the variation in progress being made by companies in adopting ethical sourcing.
On the one hand, a 2017 list by Canadian organisation Assent of the world’s most influential people in the fight against human trafficking, includes an impressive number from the UK. On the other, figures published by TISCreport in September 2017, show that half of the UK companies that should have published their modern slavery statements under the Modern Slaver Act, have failed to do so.
One of those listed in Assent’s top 100 influencers is Paul Gerrard, Group Policy and Campaigns Director at the Co-op. He will be discussing the actions that responsible businesses can and should be taking in relation to modern slavery, at the 2017 APRES Conference. “Of those UK companies that are complying with the Act,” he says, “many go no further than the letter of the law. But some aim to comply with the spirit of the law, and a number are going even further to take a genuine lead in combating modern slavery.
“Slavery is a crime that is unique in the way it treats people – men, women and children – as mere commodities,” says Gerrard. “With 40 million slaves in the world, including more than 15,000 in the UK, we are all – businesses and society – in some ways complicit in slavery.
“At the Co-op we believe there is a moral obligation for all businesses to go beyond the legal requirements. For example, we are taking a lead on how companies can help the victims of slavery recover control of their own lives. A critical element of this is getting them back into paid employment – our Bright Future programme offers the opportunity of paid work placements to people rescued from slavery.”
Ethical sourcing data
As the drive for ethical sourcing gains pace – along with the high-profile discussions around responsible sourcing guidance and combating slavery – other, more technical issues need to be addressed.
One of these is the collection and use of data. With more businesses focussing on responsible sourcing, supply chain data in this area is becoming more easily accessible and is now being widely gathered. “This raises the question of what do we do with it,” says Jacqui Glass, “how do we handle this data and what other benefits could it bring us?”
This new conversation about data will be debated at the 2017 APRES conference, which combines technical issues such as this, with the more social, business issues involved in implementing ethical sourcing. Presentations around these topics will be delivered – as in previous APRES conferences – by a wide range of speakers bringing a variety of perspectives.
The most diverse set of speakers
“This year’s conference may well have the most diverse set of speakers yet,” says Dr Shamir Ghumra, Director Sustainable Products at BRE, the home of APRES. “Along with leading construction industry colleagues, we have representatives from retail, such as Paul Gerrard, fashion and government – each bringing valuable insights and experience.
“Rebecca Fordham, for example,will describe the process and challenges of setting up a new company based on ethical principles. She is the founder of Tales of Thread, a company specialising in the manufacture of ethically-made sleepwear in Ghana – there will be a stand showcasing the company’s products at the conference.”
Tales of Thread combines English tailoring expertise with Ghana's craftsmanship and textile heritage. It works with female-owned and managed factories in Ghana, paying above-market wages in safe working environments and providing training for vulnerable women.
“Having both new and established speakers from a variety of businesses, roles and supply chains ensures that we don’t just have the same old conversations,” says Jacqui Glass. “This rich diversity sparks a healthy debate that is reflected in the feedback on APRES conferences. Delegates consistently refer to the frank, open and honest discussions, which few other events in the sector can match.”
The APRES Annual Conference 2017 – ‘Risk & Responsibility – The evolution of supply chain data and business culture’, is on Wednesday 22 November 2017, at the QEII Centre in Central London.