Purchasers feel duty of care to supply chain workers

29 March 2010

29 March 2010 | Allie Anderson

Buyers have a moral obligation to protect the welfare of people working in their supply chains, according to 87 per cent of respondents to the latest SM100 poll.

The survey of international purchasers was conducted following two cases of alleged mistreatment of supply chain workers.

Last month, the Equality and Human Rights Commission uncovered evidence that workers at UK meat suppliers were subjected to “widespread mistreatment and exploitation”. Elsewhere, some Indian clothing suppliers to retail giant Wal-Mart failed to pay staff the minimum wage.

Susan Godfrey, senior buyer for Balfour Beatty WorkPlace, said although buyers have a responsibility to look after supply chain workers’ interests, it’s not easy.

“Procurement professionals have a duty to try to select their suppliers based on the principles of welfare for workers. However, buyers only have limited information to go on to make those decisions,” she said.

Others said purchasers could challenge suppliers through regular audits. “The key issue is accountability, how your customers will react to your supply chain decisions,” said Live Nation supply chain director Brian Grew. “In today’s connected world customers are better informed.”

Shaun Evans, supplier relationship manager at Britannia Group, added: “I struggle to reconcile the thought of reducing cost to such an extent that the supplier has to exploit workers.”

But 13 per cent of buyers did not consider themselves liable for the well-being of supply chain workers, with most suggesting it is the responsibility of the vendor.

“Stop using the supplier and the worker doesn’t get paid so a whole family goes hungry. Use the supplier and you are encouraging the [bad] practice,” said one contracts officer anonymously. “The issue is that the consumer wants it all.”

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