Today’s post is from David Henshall, Founder of Purchasing Practice. Dave can be reached at
dhenshall <at> purchasingpractice <dot> com.
In this four part series, we examine eight dimensional capabilities that will help you overcome the myths surrounding global sourcing. In today’s post, we will focus on the final dimensions of politics, local context, and enabling infrastructure. (Yesterday’s post addressed risk and opportunity.)
Dimension #6: Politics
Politics matters in LCCS. As stated in my introduction to the series (Part I), much of the political noise from politicians, humanitarians and environmentalist can be misleading, resulting in flawed policies and strategies for governments and companies alike. This noise generally consists of allegations of:
- Job exportation
- Sub-standard quality
- Child labour
- Slave wages
- Environment pollution
The problem with many of these allegations are that they come from a benchmark of western standards applied in a developing nations context. The assumption is that if we apply these standards it must surely help the people in developing countries. However, there is a real risk that codes of conduct, when applied inappropriately, may worsen social and environmental conditions for workers in these communities. To avoid such unintended consequences, Wilding & Braithwaite (of the Cranfield School of Management) advise companies that they must:
- anticipate the ultimate impacts of implementing codes of conduct,
- contextualize their application instead of simply demanding compliance with conditions that make little sense in a particular developing country context, and
- incorporate the voices of workers and communities in the design, implementation, monitoring, and impact assessment of codes in order to ensure a better fit between what workers and communities prioritize as opposed to what Western society think they ought to prioritize.
Some companies panic in response to negative media exposure of poor working conditions or the use of child labour at their supplier factories, and choose to sever their connections with these suppliers. Companies need to resist this ‘cut and run’ response and engage deeper with suppliers in applying policies which fit the local context.
Dimension #7: Local Context
Dr. Peter Lund-Thomsen, a visiting Researcher with the Copenhagen Centre for Corporate Responsibility, advises that organisations need to take the social, economic, environmental, and linguistic contexts into which codes of conduct are being implemented into consideration if we want to avoid producing unintended, often negative, consequences for the intended beneficiaries of codes.
The implementation of codes in isolation is unlikely to bring about sustained improvements in working conditions. Lund therefore advises that the emphasis needs to be placed on incorporating the concerns and voices of the ultimate beneficiaries of codes of conduct in the design, implementation, monitoring and impact assessment of codes.
Dimension #8: Enabling Infrastructure
For buyers, technology is a key component. The capability to view supply chain data on a single platform can be critical to achieving the real time visibility necessary to successfully mitigate the risk in extended supply chains. Technologies such as RFID can also support the transactional visibility as goods move between handling units in the supply chain.
Buyers can play a role in enforcing local legislation and in providing the necessary expertise, resources, and infrastructure that enable developing country suppliers to meet their legal obligations.
Organisations who engage with suppliers over the long term, in terms of providing the necessary resources and expertise that will enable them to improve their social and environmental performance, are likely to be the most successful in maximising the benefits of LCCS. The ‘cut-and-run’ response in relation to negative media publicity is likely to do more harm than good if the aim is to improve the workers’ conditions and reduce environmental pollution at supplier factories.