Slavery in your Supply Chain-Do you know?

Last week I read a very interesting article in the New York Times that detailed how an investigation by the Associated Press prompted the emergency rescue of over 300 Slaves. The astonishing thing is that the article reported the “men from Burma were among hundreds of migrant workers who have been lured or tricked into leaving their countries and forced into catching fish for consumers around the world including the United States.” Much of the fish caught by the enslaved men was tracked by satellite and traced to some of America’s largest supermarkets and retailers.

Forced labor and slavery is big business. Of the 35 million people estimated by the Global Slavery Index to be enslaved worldwide, the majority are victims of exploitation in private sector activities, such as manufacturing, construction and agriculture. The illicit profit estimated by the International Labor Organization is $150 billion per year.

Many companies are adopting risk strategies, but I don’t believe that companies go far enough. When I speak to groups of supply chain professionals about risk management, I always ask how many of the audience members have a risk management strategy. It’s not surprising that all hands raise to affirm they have a risk strategy. The second question I ask is how many people manage the supply chain beyond the tier one or primary suppliers. Most of the hands go down because companies rarely manage the entire supply chain. From my experience working with hundreds of companies around the world, rarely can you find a map of the supply chain end-to-end.

News headlines are further evidence that companies need a strong handle on the supply chain. When toy companies have been accused of buying from suppliers that lack ethics and abuse employees, and garment retailers have suppliers whose factories collapsed killing hundreds of workers, the brand names who sell these products scramble to issue statements that they were unaware of the problems and promise to tighten their policies. Have they been successful? How do they know?

My advice is that every supply chain should be mapped and the complete supply chain should be audited. This is the advice I gave in 1998 in the book “Transform your Supply Chain; Releasing value in Business” and the advice remains sound in 2015. An excellent tool for audit is the Supplier Risk Index (SRI), an online resource developed by Ethisphere and the Institute for Supply Management® (ISM) for organizations to survey the practices among their suppliers and their supplier’s suppliers.

Of course, Supplier Visits are essential wherever your supplier is located. Learning to ask the right questions, meeting with the right people and being observant to identify their suppliers can help put the supply chain puzzle together.

Do you really know if slavery is part of your supply chain?

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