A key part of ensuring that your customers, business partners, and anyone else with an interest can trust the ethics behind your company is transparency. From the top to the bottom of your supply chain, transparency is a core component of ethical commerce, production, and sales.
Short of recording every business process publicly – with all of the issues that entails – how can you help implement transparency? Fortunately, many modern business tools used throughout the supply chain have been developed with an eye toward transparency, and they can be of great use to any business.
Below, we’ve put together a list of seven of the best tools you can use to improve the transparency of your supply chain.
Sayari is a Commercial Risk Intelligence Platform. Their core product is Sayari Graph, but that product is based on an immense wealth of information and relational mapping they’ve put together in their internal knowledge base.
Basically, this is a platform you can use to map out the companies you work with throughout your supply chain. Each company is, in turn, mapped to others they have public relationships with, business dealings with, or other connections. Various kinds of information about these companies, from their locations to statuses, are recorded with documentation backing them up.
Why is this useful for transparency in your supply chain? Well, if any company in the network map has an issue, that issue is flagged and becomes visible on your map. Issues can range from a negative reputation to convictions for financial crimes to human rights violations and official sanctions.
By using this map, you can see two things. The first is whether any of the companies in your direct supply chain map have any sort of risk factors associated with them. You can generate reports and even publish information about your supply chain with validation that everything is on the up and up.
Secondly, you can see if any of the companies you work with are themselves working with other companies that are high risk. You may not have any companies in your supply chain that violate financial laws, but if someone in your chain also works with companies known to commit violations, it can show a level of risk inherent in working with them. You may not want to be caught in that web or support a company that, in turn, supports crime.
Since all of the information in the graph map is backed up with documentation, you can have validation beyond rumor and can optimize your supply chain and your business partnerships for ethics and transparency.
2: Insite Compliance
Insite Compliance is a company providing auditing and review services, along with consulting. While they aren’t a tool so much as a service, that service can be exceedingly valuable. In particular, they focus on social compliance and ethical supply chain issues. They adhere to SMETA, the Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit standards system. SMETA is the most widely-used framework for social auditing in the world, and is proven to be effective.
If your company is concerned about social justice and ethical treatment of employees, whether it’s from direct social interactions, indirect company policies, or anything else, Insite is a great company to hire to review your company. Their review can identify potential social justice issues throughout your company and can offer you ways to help remediate those issues. They also provide excellent training for everyone in an organization, from top to bottom.
When you’ve received an audit and addressed any issues that come up, you can then use the results of that audit as a way to promote your company. While they don’t really have a certification or anything of the sort, you’ll know you’re in a good position ethically and can use that information however you choose.
One of the biggest concerns for many who shop green and ethical is the source of the raw materials that lead to the products they buy. Some people are concerned with green farming, some with the humane treatment of workers, and so on. Some products, such as cotton, cocoa, and coffee, have a greater reputation for terrible ethics than others, but there’s an increasing awareness and interest in ensuring that the raw materials used to create a product are ethically produced.
Identifying the origin of those raw materials and tracking them through the supply chain is known as tracking the provenance of those materials.
Appropriately enough, one great tool for tracking the provenance of raw materials is Provenance.
Provenance tracks a variety of different elements of any given product. Those elements can include things like:
- The ethical farming methods used to produce the materials.
- The ethical treatment of employees doing that farming.
- The ownership of the companies involved in producing a product.
- The sourcing of the packaging materials for the product.
- Whether or not the product is certified cruelty-free.
Any given product can be analyzed throughout its supply chain. Brands can track and certify their products, retailers can provide information about their products, and consumers can see all of this information easily.
Provenance uses a unique form of blockchain technology to record all of this information in an indelible record. They go through each step of the process and how they leverage that technology to do it in this post if you’re curious.
There may be some concern about the ethics of using blockchain technology at all. While there are certain negative connotations to the technology, those connotations largely revolve around cryptocurrencies, not the underlying blockchain tech. The tech itself isn’t necessarily damaging any more than any other computer system.
One of the greatest modern concerns in supply chain ethics is surrounding farming and agriculture. This is relevant to many aspects of our lives, including food, textiles, and cosmetics. Agribusiness is an immense industry and a global one; with so much to cover all around the world, there are bound to be ethical concerns.
Indeed, farming is also one area where human rights, environmental rights, social justice, and virtually every other form of ethics are routinely violated in different ways and in different locations. Whether it’s using near-slave labor for farming, putting locals in danger of drought due to watering crops, or simply devastating ecosystems with monoculture crops, there are many different concerns all across the industry.
SourceTrace is a company looking to help address these issues. Their product is a SaaS platform that allows anyone in agriculture or who purchases agricultural products as raw materials to trace the sourcing and the related ethics of those sources for any given product. It can be a key part of transparent supply chain management for businesses relying on agricultural supplies.
Farmers, retailers, consumers, and everyone in between can make use of SourceTrace and their suite of services. From carbon data to human rights, there’s information to sate the curiosity and provide validation for the ethics of virtually any kind of product based on agricultural materials.
The biggest downside to SourceTrace is simply their focus. Since they’re deeply linked to agriculture, there are a lot of “blind spots”; if your company works primarily with synthetic materials, mined materials, and other non-farmed materials, this platform isn’t going to be very helpful in comparison.
5: Sedex Platform
Up above, one of the things we mentioned in terms of auditing and sustainability was Sedex. Well, Sedex offers its own platform, known appropriately enough as Sedex Platform, formerly Sedex Advance.
Sedex Platform is a single centralized platform that a company can use to store and track sustainability data about their company and its products. It can generate a wide range of possible sustainability reports, which can be published and used as part of transparency reports.
Sedex Platform also includes integration with Radar, their own risk management platform similar to the risk mapping of Sayari. On top of that, their analytics and their self-assessments help you determine where you’re succeeding in meeting sustainability goals and where you’re falling short.
Sedex has over 75,000 members and has conducted a quarter of a million audits using data across 180+ countries. This makes them one of the largest single platforms for sustainability auditing in the business world.
A huge part of ethical supply lines is the treatment of the workers at every step in the chain, from raw materials to production to fulfillment and customer service. All too often, people focus on the ethics of the materials but forget about the ethics of the people involved. Of course, we all know that a business can’t be a functional business without its people.
Ulula is a platform focused on human rights and worker feedback. It is, essentially, a communications platform that allows workers at all levels to deliver feedback to those above them in the chain. There are a variety of protections in place, such as anonymity in communications, to help prevent retaliation against workers who speak out. Surveys can gather feedback, and they even have a grievance mechanism you can implement to levy punishments on management for violations they should address.
If there’s any downside to Ulula, it’s that the scope is somewhat limited. If you’re a company like ours purchasing mostly finished products and finishing them for sale (that is, buying t-shirts to print on demand rather than farming the cotton), it can be difficult to get a full glimpse of your supply chain. Ulula can show you what’s within your sphere of influence, but you can’t exactly implement it within other companies downstream of your own.
Shipping and order fulfillment is an often overlooked aspect of both ethical production and transparency. For consumers, having transparency about where their orders are – and where they’re coming from – can be a huge deal. For businesses, tracking shipments and optimizing shipping, whether it’s local or international, is one of many ways you can review and improve your own position within the overall ethical supply line process.
Shippabo is a shipping management platform with an emphasis on transparency. You can organize every element of shipping within your entire supply line, all from one single platform. Whether you’re tracking freight shipments of raw materials across an ocean, truckloads of products via domestic supply lines, or individual shipments heading to customers as part of fulfillment, it’s all visible at a glance on a single dashboard. They also allow you to leverage predictive intelligence to optimize shipments before you need to make an order in some cases.
Improving Transparency in Supply Chains
The truth is, the seven tools we’ve listed above are just scratching the surface of what exists on the market today. Transparency is an increasingly prominent concern in business, so more and more business tools are finding ways to implement transparency reporting; the tools you currently use may even have those features.
Whether you’re a small-scale business importing products to sell, a large-scope enterprise working with suppliers around the world, or a raw material producer bringing those materials to market, transparency in the supply chain is critical today. Environmental justice, social justice, and human rights are all inextricably linked and interrelated.
No matter how advanced your tools, however, they can’t do anything without you taking action. Transparency is only a way to facilitate accountability, and accountability is the only way to promote change. Whether it’s analyzing and reducing environmental impact to help combat the threat of climate change, reviewing the treatment and conditions of workers at every step of the way to ensure human rights, or optimizing the supply chain from top to bottom to improve the environmental impact of shipping, it all starts with your actions.
At Ethix, we strive to produce goods in the most ethical way possible, and we take pride in the amount of transparency we bring to the table. Every product is tracked in as much detail as we possibly can, and while the raw material supply chain can be a little tangled sometimes, we’re more than happy to discuss it all with you. If you’re interested in ethical products and you want to know the facts behind our claims, simply reach out; we’re more than happy to give you the information we have so you can judge for yourself. Don’t just take our word for it.
Daniel Cardozo, CEO of Ethix Merch, is a passionate advocate for ethical promotional products. With a mission to transform global supply chains, he serves on the Labor 411 Foundation and Advertising Specialty Institute’s Promo for the Planet Advisory Board. Daniel is dedicated to empowering socially and environmentally-conscious consumers.