Grim convenience

David Noble, Group CEO, Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply
11 March 2014

13 March 2014 | David Noble

David Noble, CIPS CEOAs consumers in the west we are spoilt for choice when it comes to our weekly food shop and we take it for granted that 
all kinds of foods will be available all year round. So, for our convenience, supply 
chains have become more complex and 
more demanding and the margin for error and for fraud has increased.

That’s certainly one of the findings from Chris Elliott, professor at the Institute for Global Food Safety at Queen’s University, Belfast. His report, released at the end of 
last year, made for grim reading. He highlighted the need for a change in culture at the Food Standards Agency and the fact that criminal gangs are robbing the UK food and drink industry of a large proportion of its £188 billion worth.

He also stressed the dangers of tight margins in food supply chains, opening the window to bribery and fraud, giving criminal gangs carte blanche to peddle their gruesome wares. The fact that the poor, those fed in schools and care homes, and a number of ethnic groups were affected last year during the horse meat scandal does make this a horrible affair.

So it must come as some considerable disappointment that his findings and recommendations are still to make a significant impact. More instances of food fraud have greeted us recently with numerous tales of fake Manuka honey, cheap chilli powder mixed with carcinogens, and methanol in vodka leading to dozens of deaths around the world.

The Institute for Global Food Safety has 
a global remit and is supported by huge investment from the university to combat 
‘food crime’ but I suspect that unravelling 
the multi-tiered supply chains will take 
many years. Feeding ever-growing populations in the West, let alone in the 
rest of the world is a challenge, and when scientists experiment with 3D food printing, we know there is a massive pressure to 
keep the world fed in the cheapest, 
speediest way possible. In the report Elliott recommended “thoughtful procurement practice” and “incentive mechanisms” in the control of food supply chains, but I think it’s more than that. This is about procurement professionals, skilled and ethical, who can spot fraud and act with integrity and accountability.

The report also suggested that buyers should “know their supplier”, but good supplier relationships is what our professionals do as a matter of course 
so there is much that our profession could be doing to combat this issue.

New ethical toolkit to view online

Ethical behaviour continues to be a challenge and a goal in supply chains, so we’ve launched a new tool to support those keen to improve their ethical practice.

An online two-hour e-learning course takes participants through content on corruption, fraud, bribery, exploitation, human rights and forced labour while offering an understanding of moral and social conscience. The e-learning culminates in a test and a certificate of achievement if passed successfully, as well as recognition on the CIPS website that the user has been trained in ethics. Corporations can access it for all staff members responsible for managing and sourcing suppliers and on successful completion and with a statement of commitment, they will receive the CIPS Corporate Ethical Mark.

I think this is a great step forward in arming our professionals with a toolkit to help them understand and act on unethical practices. We recently called for a licence for our profession and want our members and organisations to commit to a self-regulated approach to procurement and supply by ensuring the right people with the right skills are in the right job. This is a key step on that path.


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