Builders collaborating to map supply chains

17 February 2017

Major construction contractors are collaborating to map their supply chains for modern slavery. 

Firms including Aggregate Industries, Carillion, Tarmac and HS2 are working together through the Supply Chain Sustainability School to reduce the risk of modern slavery in a way that does not “build in inefficiencies” and drive up costs.

SCSS said it will work with consultants to trace a number of high-risk products to identify suppliers and sourcing locations.

Collaboration was “also about consistency, so we don’t get 30 or 40 different versions of maps,” said Shaun McCarthy, chair of SCSS. The school will start mapping a number of high-risk construction materials “on behalf of the industry rather than expecting each individual contractor to map it’s own supply chain – because that’s expensive so it’s cheaper to do it once”.

The aim is to engage high-risk suppliers and provide training on modern slavery where necessary. “Audits play a part, but we’re not primarily focused on audits, we’re primarily focused on education. The purpose of the mapping exercise is to understand who those suppliers are and where they are, to get some information about them so that we can start to engage them with the school [with the training],” said McCarthy.

“We’re not believers in getting the entire supply chain to fill in a load of meaningless questionnaires, or indeed sending squads of auditors to places,” he added.

Although SCSS has not yet decided on a mapping process, McCarthy said it wll be “as simple as possible”. “We’re not considering any sort of software solutions at this moment in time because in my opinion there’s a lot of snake oil out there – software providers will sell you the magic answer to your modern slavery problem and I don’t believe there is one.”

The collaboration is part of SCSS’s growth plan. The school, which exists to make the sector’s supply chain more sustainable, started with seven partners. It now has more than 50, including 19 of the top 20 main contractors, McCarthy said. “We can actually start to have an opinion and show some leadership. I hate the expression thought leadership, but I guess that’s where we’re going.”

Modern slavery is one of several special interests groups SCSS has established on issues that are new or challenging for the sector. Other groups cover topics including social value and performance management. It has also established partnerships – called horizon groups – with universities to develop a longer term agenda on issues including the circular economy and the impact of externalities.

“We can do this because the partners really believe in collaboration though the school,” said McCarthy.

“The construction industry’s not great at collaborating, and [SCSS] is the one thing that the whole industry has really bought into – ‘this is a place we can come, we can collaborate safely, leave our weapons at the door’.” 

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