Prawn slavery scandal shows retailers must learn supply chain transparency lessons from other...

Retailers need to learn from the experiences of other sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry, and ultimately provide greater traceability, transparency and stricter control over their supply chains, in light of the recent prawn farming slavery scandal.

The recent investigation by The Guardian revealed the harrowing circumstances in which prawns are being farmed and sold to UK supermarkets.

This type of scandal is not the first of its kind to hit the FMCG and retail space in recent years. Last year we had the debate about horse meat bringing to attention the origins of the food we eat and the journey it takes to our home. This latest news draws on striking parallels and demonstrates that actions must to be taken to improve the transparency of retailers’ supply chains.

In terms of what can be done to address this, retailers need to look at other sectors and how they manage their supply chains. Largely, the quality assurances given by suppliers are to a satisfactory standard but clearly this scandal demonstrates that more far reaching methods need to take place.

Looking at the pharmaceutical industry, in 2012 the European Commission passed the Falsified Medicines Directive – key within this was a legal requirement for all manufacturers to apply European auditing standards to all their manufacturers and the ingredients they use within this. Adding this across the food and retail sector will effectively extend the manufacturers' responsibility further.

Similar practices among retailers would see them taking a greater responsibility over the source of food, whether it be from a third party supplier or that of one brought directly. It will require the retailers visit first-hand the sites they purchase their food from and not relying on second hand feedback from local distributors and suppliers.

Ultimately, retailers are going to be under pressure to act. We’ve already seen the negative effects brought about by the horse meat scandal as well as the findings of slavery within the apparel industry during production processes. Retailers need to make sure they are giving the right information and are transparent about their supply chains. Consumers are more aware than ever about the journey their food takes, and if the methods employed within this process are deemed unethical, they won’t be afraid to look elsewhere.

☛ Nick Miller is head of FMCG at Crimson & Co

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