It is interesting to poll a large audience to see who has a supply chain risk strategy. It’s no surprise that all the hands go up indicating that a supply risk strategy exists and even more interesting to see most of the hands go down when asked how many companies go beyond tier 1 suppliers. The surprising fact is that we do a great deal of due diligence when selecting the suppliers, but the reality is that the risk does not always exist at the direct supplier level. A few weeks ago, I was working in the computer industry with a client who had just mapped the supply chain only to find that all the suppliers had a common source on a component three levels downstream in the supply chain. Without this knowledge, the client and industry had an extreme source of undocumented risk. I’ve heard all excuses for the inability to map supply chain and excuses range from our supplier will provide that data, supplier say there supply chains proprietary, we don’t have the manpower, and it’s difficult.
I recently started working on a project to develop programs for forced and child labor in the supply chain and, based on my research, many industries and companies have extreme exposure to reputation risk. Thinking back to my experience with commodities and food ingredients, apparel, fishing and mineral categories, there should have been a detailed audit of the supply lines. I used this experience when I coauthored the book “Transform your Supply Chain: Releasing Value in Business” in 1998, which is all about preparing for the changes in supply chain and includes a detailed audit to help companies audit the chain. I update the surveys in that process continually, which now include corporate social responsibility, cybersecurity and a shared responsibility across the supply chain that wasn’t a concern 20 years ago.
I think it’s time to get serious about mapping and auditing the supply chain. No longer can we tolerate a supply base that does not feel the need for mitigation of supply and reputation risk across the supply chain. Here’s a simple process to follow:
Much of the mapping can be developed in the survey. It’s essential to identify critical supply links and assure that there are no issues in the downstream supply. While I understand the constraints of manpower and budgets, the cost will be a fraction of the cost in having a significant supply loss or damaged reputation from a social issue.
Can you afford not to map and audit your supply chain?
Since ancient times, trade deals have been struck with foreign countries. You could say that trade and tax were the spark that has ignited revolutions and wars.
The promise for the US to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership, coupled with the UK vote to leave the EU and change trade agreements across Europe, is raising concerns and signaling an anti-free trade sentiment. Free trade advocates are disappointed for sure and the future is uncertain.
The political climate has changed, bringing more focus on a reshoring movement in the US. Many of us in procurement were driven to support low cost country sourcing. Whether moving sources back to the US or with the potential of tariffs, duties and increased fees, our strategy and profit plans could be at risk.
While we don’t know what will evolve in terms of the future of trade, there are opportunities and risks. The opportunities will be presented if the US renegotiates trade deals to take advantage of the ability to drive US exports. The risks come if trade deals do not happen and increase costs to protect US manufacturing hurt the bottom line. I’m advising my clients to:
- Review all internationally sourced components
- Understand the strategic nature of all of the internationally sourced categories
- Identify opportunities for alternate sourcing
- Understand items with high capital investment and technology as a driver (and the implications of not being able to switch suppliers)
- Create a currency strategy
- Drive best value sourcing
It’s always better to be prepared than surprised.
What’s your plan?
Two food headlines disappointed me the past two weeks; the first to grab my attention was “The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local officials are investigating an outbreak of Hepatitis A illnesses linked to raw scallops from the Philippines.” The second was “an outbreak of Hepatitis A caused by the imported frozen strawberries from Egypt has sickened 55 people in six states, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.”
In an interview with FoodQualityNews.com in 2013 and in an article in Food Safety magazine in 2014, I explained that not every container coming in to the US is inspected by the regulatory authorities. This means all food processors need to self-regulate their products. It is essential that the procurement team map and audit the supply chain on a frequent basis. As someone who has purchased seafood, it was necessary to visit the region, inspect the boats and factories. It was not uncommon to see modern stainless steel processing facilities with good manufacturing processes and sanitation protocol. It was also not uncommon to see old, rusty processing facilities with no protocol. It’s the same with the way the fish are handled on the boats. The unfortunate news is that not every buyer visits suppliers and limited audits occur.
In my consulting life, I have worked with many companies to build strategies for buying fruits, including frozen strawberries. The strawberry origins were Mexico and California. My advice was to visit the crop as it was growing and to be on hand when their products are being processed. In many cases the procurement team and their technical support intervened to assure the quality is achieved.
Too often low cost country sourced food materials provide attractive pricing, but they come with a big risk. It is never a good idea to source through third parties without building a map of the supply chain, auditing the supply chain and visiting the suppliers first hand. Many companies, unfortunately, will not fund such programs.
Since many food products are imported without regulatory checks, it’s up to the companies and procurement teams to self-regulate. The risks are many: reputation risk, creating illness and potential criminal charges if the company is known to have endangered lives.
Is it worth the risk?
This month is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking (PITF) is a cabinet-level entity created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, its mission is to coordinate the the efforts to combat human trafficking. In the PITF Fact Sheet released earlier this month, Procurement and Supply Chain is named as one of the 4 priorities. The PITF meets annually and is proposing some new measures sure to put pressure on organizations like the fishing industry and retailers who unknowingly purchased product where trafficking was involved.
I mention this in my blog because I have long held the belief that it is impossible to responsibly source internationally from one’s desk in the US. Unfortunately, that’s the practice that a large number of companies engage in. They locate sources of supplies through trading companies, brokers or stumble across them on the internet. In many cases employers enjoy the cost benefits from global sourcing, but fail to see the value in the required due diligence of investigating the entire supply chain and creating relationships with suppliers. They are concerned about the budget and expense of travel and fail to see the damage that the company can be exposed to if the product has a reputation risk or bribery issue.
It may seem like a prudent move, but it can land a company in a PR, regulatory and customer nightmare. My experiences with international sourcing are that I have found that the trading companies and brokers are often not concerned with product consistency, CSR, dedicated manufacturing sites and sanitation. The customer orders are coming in and the customer is content to stay in the US and fork out money, so, why worry about anything but price and delivery.
Some things I’ve seen are food companies processing materials in rusty metal cans, unsanitary plants, machinery incapable of holding tolerances, safety violations capable of great harm, death and life-long disabilities and the list goes on. I have also seen the most modern robotics and invested capital to assure consistent, safe and least-cost manufacturing in many foreign companies. The trick is to survey and understand the supply chain, visit the supplier and make sure your company is not exposed to reputation damage from the global supply chain. Understanding the culture and building strong relationships with foreign entities is even more important when sourcing globally.
Here are 5 key tips that I recommend:
- Never source from your desk; visit the supplier
- Include the cost of visiting suppliers in your cost reduction analysis
- Always visit the suppliers and consider contracting resources in the region to be your eyes and ears
- Look for all health and safety issues, create extensive interviews with principals
- Develop strong CSR and Sustainability policies that the suppliers must sign and agree to
The PITF is creating resources to help, including the release of the online Responsible Sourcing Tool this month. Use these resources and read up on USAID’s new Supply Unchained initiative. Look into the tools offered by ISM like the Supplier Risk Tool and CIPS’ Sustainability Index. And most importantly,
Get up from your desk and visit suppliers.
The latest U.S. employment report seems to have given the Federal Reserve a strong signal to bump interest rates after it failed to do so in September. Employment increased by 211,000 people following a gain of 298,000 in October that was bigger than previously estimated, easing concerns that manufacturing activity is slowing.
While the interest rate increase is expected to be modest, it will have an impact on procurement activity and supply chain finance. Before looking at the impact of raised interest rates, let’s look at the impact of reduced loan availability a few years ago and extended payment terms–stretched from 90 to 180 days in some industries. These extended terms have fueled a booming factoring market where suppliers sell their receivables at discounts that are far higher than loan interest rates to maintain cash flow. Not only is the sustainability of this practice in question, but it becomes difficult for a company to compute true days sales outstanding. So, can the supplier who factors or the buyer who relies on liquidity calculations as part of risk management really know where the company stands? Higher interest rates will not help a company stop this sell-receivables-today-to-fund-new-sales-production cycle.
We have become comfortable with low cost money and when that cost is increased, it will have a serious impact on low margin, high volume suppliers who are essentially financing the supply chain for the end customers. Labor costs will likely be impacted as the cost of credit cards, hard goods, homes and automobiles carry the increased interest rate cost to the consumer and workers will look for higher wages.
While the interest rate hike will not be a surprise, the market change from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market may catch some procurement and supply chain professionals by surprise, who in many have not lived through periods of inflation and increasing prices.
While I hope that the impact is minimal, I am advising all of my clients to complete a financial risk assessment of their supply chain, dust off cost containment processes, retrain their teams and review all contracts.
In times of uncertainty, its always best to drive a proactive approach.