How do your ethics translate?

30 September 2013
Alison Smith, the Purchasing CoachIn my previous blog I suggested our personal values can get in the way of us always acting and meeting agreed ethical standards. I'd like to consider what happens when we try to apply these standards to our purchasing activity. Let’s continue with the example I used of fairness and assume we've agreed that fairness means the following:
  • Equal opportunities
  • A right to personal wellbeing
  • A right to long term sustainability
  • Respect
  • Equal treatment
The question becomes how can we apply these criteria of fairness to our supply base? In other words what behaviour would a supplier expect to see if we were being fair? Many ethical sourcing policies identify that this would include:
  • Payment of living wage
  • Safe working conditions
  • Children in education not exploited
I suggested before our own personal values could sometimes mean we’d allow these things to be compromised if our own personal and families survival was at stake. I’d suggest it’s the same for organisations. Return on investment, profitability and the rest are all values that can get in the way of ensuring ‘fairness’ is given to all suppliers and their employees. The other point is what right do I have to determine what fairness for another supplier means and for those who work for them?
  • Living wage: If people should be able to have a certain standard of living from doing a day’s work then payment of a living wage makes sense.
  • Safe working conditions: I think it makes sense to assume we don’t want people working in unsafe conditions. (Although, as recent developments regarding the use of helicopters in the oil and gas industry highlights, not an easy thing to define.)
  • Children in education not working: I’d certainly prefer children to be at school rather than working. But this is where I think our ‘ethics’ can get more fraught with controversy. If for a family to survive a child needs to work, how can I deny them the same right I have to make decisions that support my own family’s survival?
The interesting thing for me is many organisations’ ethical sourcing policies prohibit child labour, but stop short of payment of the living wage. How fair and ethical are the policies in your organisation? ☛ Alison Smith is a consultant, facilitator and coach 
Portsmouth / Bristol - Nationwide Travel
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Ministry of Defence: Defence Infrastructure Organisation
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