Category Archives: CSR

CSR, Procurement and North America: Creating a Market

In our previous article, we asked if you could solve the modern compliance challenge, and, more specifically if you could do it with Ecovadis. This is because compliance has morphed over the past few years from insuring you weren’t doing any illegal trading and simply satisfying the tax man (and import/export compliance is essentially just respecting the legality of the country you are trading with and satisfying its tax man) to having to comply and deal with a lot of regulations around financial reporting and global trade to having to respect the environment (pretty much everywhere but the US, with the exception of California) to having to take corporate social responsibility for the organization’s entire supply chain and ensure there is no violation of worker’s rights, child labour, or human trafficking — or face the consequences that can not only include bad press (at internet speed) and large fines but, in some countries, criminal charges against the officers of the corporation.

We also noted that solving the compliance challenge was tough because you needed environmental data, sustainability data, social compliance data, and even third party audits on your suppliers, and sources of this data (outside of internal surveys that were unverifiable without site audits) were few and far between. The few players with even remotely recognizable names that exist are in Europe, and Ecovadis is the largest. As a result, it likely has the best shot at championing a market in North America, especially with its increasing partner footprint, supplier database (with over 55K assessed companies), and global reach (as they cover suppliers across 155 countries).

But Ecovadis is not a household brand in North America. To become one, it really must drive material commercial traction outside of the EU and, most important, prove that the market for CSR ratings and compliance in North America is as central to supplier management as other supplier management initiatives (e.g., risk, EHS, etc.) to truly “go global”.

The case for an Ecovadis model is sound. Most major procurement departments at US F500s and larger mid-size companies are still focussed on cost-cutting. And using Ecovadis to get the sustainability data the organization needs is roughly 20% of the cost of trying to do it in house.

Further:

  • Organizations that are embarking upon more strategic category management want deep supplier information before selecting potential strategic suppliers and the response rate to Ecovadis-initiated assessments is 90%
  • The average organization will struggle with a 70% response rate in such initiatives, especially when you consider the average supplier turn-over (as identified in a recent QIMA survey) is 27%
  • Once a supplier is in the Ecovadis network, the chances that their overall CSR rating will improve on their next (annual) assessment is 64%
  • For an average company, unless they initiate a supplier development program and work with the supplier, the chances the supplier will otherwise improve on their own is, as we all know, closer to 6.4% than 64%

Less money. Better results. You’d think it would be an instant buy, but it’s not. So why. Is it because it’s European?

Not necessarily — Jaggaer One+ and Jaggaer One Direct from Jaggaer, which is one of the S2P juggernauts, has good NA penetration, and those solutions (formerly BravoSolution and Pool4Tool) are European.

So that’s not it.

Is it because the space is new or unproven? Can’t be. Ecovadis has been around for 12 years and Sedex Global for 18. Plus, there are a number of other players in the space. Is it because the solution is not user friendly? No — it’s delivered via a simple SaaS platform and they even have public quotes from F500s to that effect. So what’s the problem?

North American companies.

First of all, with apologies to Spike Lee, many will “only do the right thing” when they are forced, and then only to the extent necessary (although this may be changing).

Second, they’d rather profit today than save tomorrow (even if the long term savings would be multiples of the short term profit gains). This means that for them to invest in a solution, they want to see a large, immediate, sometimes unreasonable ROI.

Third, they tend to only act when they’re scared (e.g., losing budget if they have extra).

This means that, unless something changes, for Ecovadis to create a true market in North America with a similar reasonable TAM for say, the compliance management side of supplier / contractor management, it will need to lead with evangelism and, perhaps, more.

All things are possible. But as Vincent Ngo speculated decades ago, it takes a superhero to change the mind of the corporate culture. Can Ecovadis be that superhero?

For the sake of procurement and a better world, we hope that they’ll do it — or someone else.

For more information on Ecovadis, check out Spend Matters’ recent post on Catching Up on a Provider to Know (which also includes links to a deep 3-Part Vendor snap-shot co-written by the doctor and the maverick).

Remember that Sustainability Requires a Shared Understanding

With raw materials getting scarcer, energy costs getting higher, environmental conditions getting worse, and people upset by this all around, sustainability is becoming more important to the supply chain not just from a brand perspective, but from a long term business survival perspective.  But it’s not enough to just say you’re going to be sustainable, only use sustainable resources when the option is there, and only use suppliers who accept your sustainability agenda.  You have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk and make sure all parties involved understand what sustainability really means.

For example, using recycled materials where the recycling process takes more energy or creates more carbon than creating new materials from renewable resources is not a smart move.  Sometimes you want to create reusable materials or containers and not just recyclable ones. Etc.

And while it can be easy to state the goals, it can be difficult to communicate exactly what those goals mean and how they should be addressed.  And, more importantly,  why it is important if the sustainable way costs more, takes longer, or displaces traditional suppliers if they don’t change their core business.

And if people don’t accept the why, the how won’t materialize.  So how do you address the how?  Point out anciliary benefits that could be worth more in the medium and long term than the short term (switching costs).  For example:

  • brand reputation
    if it makes customers want to buy from you, especially those that will spend 5% to 10% more to feel sustainable, that’s good … and while most people don’t want to pay more for sustainability, if a rival brand does something unsustainable or politically incorrect and gets a media backlash, all of a sudden your brand becomes favoured
  • risk management
    if the new material is (more) sustainable, easier to produce, more widely available, overall supply risk is lowered and that’s a good thing since every risk that materializes causes a disruption that is very costly to the organization
  • supplier engagement
    if you can find a supplier who lives and breathes for sustainability, they might be much more willing engage with you on joint-development projects for joint-benefit than a supplier mass-selling the same old widget to a wide supply base, especially if it is a widget that hasn’t changed in five years and it’s now high profit and the supplier has become fat and lazy because it gained a large market share that allowed it to be less aggressive in its offering
  • long-term savings
    if, after the switching costs are covered, the longer term cost projects are lower, than it’s worth the up-front investment

And make sure to point out how the decision stacks up with respect to concrete sustainability factors such as:

  • raw materials
    are the materials you are using renewable and can they be extracted with minimal harm to the environment
  • energy requirements
    are the energy requirements associated with your purchase (for production, storage, and transportation) minimal and can they be met with renewable resources
  • waste products
    are waste products minimal and/or reusable and/or reclaimable? can the food waste be used to feed livestock? can the metal waste be melted down and reused?
  • worker treatment
    are all workers who take part in your supply chain treated ethically, responsibly, and fairly, using standard guidelines

If a supply management decision would increase brand reputation, reduce risk, contribute to medium and long term value, enhance supplier relationships, use renewable (and non-environmentally harmful) raw materials, reduce energy requirements, or minimize (or eliminate) waste in production, and do any of this in the context of ethical worker treatment, then, regardless of what definition of sustainability each individual on a cross-functional sourcing team is partial to, it should be easy to agree that such a decision, at least in the mid-term, is sustainable.

Maybe You Can Be a Procurement Hero!

Everyone wants to be the corporate hero, but at the end of the day, very few people in a company get to be society’s hero, and fewer still without blowing the whistle on criminal activity (and being made the target of a well paid hitman).

But if your company is big enough, and the spend you’re responsible for is large enough, you can sometimes do the right thing for the company and the right thing for society (even if it’s a bit tough at first).

How? You get corporate buy in to use your corporate spending power for good. You get commitment that it’s not just the lowest cost, it’s the lowest sustainable cost that meets minimum ethical guidelines. You get a commitment from the C-Suite to not only do your best to follow what is becoming the law in many jurisdictions and eliminate slave, forced, and child labour from your supply chain but to do it because it’s the right thing. Then, you can also get a commitment to shift at least some supply to suppliers that are making efforts to be more sustainable (and not polluting the local water table) or corporately responsible (and making efforts to improve the quality of life of their workers or the local community). In certain categories (primarily sourced from low-cost countries), each of these options will generally be a bit more expensive in the short term than going with the lowest cost supplier, who likely underpays the workforce or destroys the local environment, but well worth the temporary cost increase.

First of all, your C-Suite won’t have to worry about criminal charges or jail. Secondly, sustainable suppliers tend to be around for the long haul and get more leaner, more productive, and more cost effective over time — especially with your investment (and work with you to contain costs when they start to rise). Third, you can market the heck out of your commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility. While not all consumers will pay more, some will, and those that are willing are those that will stick with you. Plus, when your competition stocks out because their supplier is finally shut down for its poor practices, you won’t have any disruptions.

Now, you’re probably saying one buyer can’t make a difference, but if you are buying a multi-million, or hundred million, category for a Fortune 500 / Global 3000, that’s a lot of money and you can use it to make a huge difference. No supplier wants to lose out on that amount of money, and even current suppliers can be changed.

Plus, if you band together with peers that are part of a trading network (like the Ariba Network that does more commerce annually than Alibaba, Amazon, and eBay combined) and all make a commitment to stop buying from a certain supplier until they adopt certain minimum corporate responsibility and sustainability requirements, you can bet that supplier will turn on a dime.

The reality is that if Procurement gets a Purpose in the Global 3000, and practitioners can garner the resolve to stick to their guns, they are one of the few people who can make a difference in this corporate driven world. It won’t be easy, but is anything worth doing?

For a slightly deeper dive into Procurement With Purpose, check out the doctor‘s two-part series over on Spend Matters (Part I) and for a much deeper dive, check out the public defender‘s new paper on Procurement with a Purpose — Making a Positive Impact on Organisations, Human Rights and Communities, sponsored by Ariba.

On the Seventh day of X-Mas (2016)


On the seventh day of X-Mas
my blogger gave to me:
Sustainable Posts
e-Procurement Posts
some SRM Posts
some CLM Posts
some Best Practice Posts
some Trend Bashing Posts
and some ranting on stupidity …

Sustainability. Corporate Social Responsibility. They are more than just buzzwords. They are essential to not only productive Procurement but corporate survival. If you’re not careful, and a critical resource required for production gets exhausted, then what? If you’re not cautious, and banned materials get into your products and you get hit with tens of millions of fines your company can’t afford as it is operating on razor thin margins, then what? And so on.

The reality is, Failure to Monitor a Supply Chain for Risk Can Tarnish Your Brand.

Don’t forget! A Major Disruption to Supply Chains Occurs Every Day — Is Yours Ready?

That’s one reason A Financial Health Check Should Be a Pre-Qualification of Every Supplier Qualification.

You have to Stop Blaming the Supplier! Melamine in the Milk is STILL Your Fault
After all, You’d Think It Would Be Obvious By Now that You Should Not Poison Your Customer!

You Need to Get Sustainable Because Customers Won’t Pay!

Sustainablity Requires Shared Understanding

Waste is costly. More costly than you think.
So here’s A Starter’s Guide to Zero Waste
Reasons you should Waste Not, Want Not
and Grocery Retailers Waste So Much Food It Should Be Criminal!

And even though you’re focussed on that bottom line, remember to ask yourself:
Is Your Supply Management Ethical?
Do You Know the Rules of Ethical Supplier Interaction?
Dilemma or Not, Buyers Still Must Take Ethics into Account!

And while you might not be big on document management,
Content is a Cornerstone of Compliance

In conclusion, come back tomorrow for the eighth day of X-Mas, and Don’t Be a Smeghead!

A Financial Health Check Should Be a Pre-Qualification of Every Supplier Qualification

And every organization should review a financial health or risk report, comprised of, or augmented with, third party data, and, unless they are (or have in-house) financial experts, this should preferably be done by a third party. The reality is that in today’s data driven world, no organization should be surprised by a bankruptcy of a mid-size or larger supplier that has been in business for at least three years. The probability of the vast majority of these bankruptcies are now predictable by financial analysts and while they may get a few wrong (as some companies may shape up just in time and others may fail faster than expected for a non-financial reason), they get a lot right.

And it’s not like financial ratings are hard to get anymore. While they are not as insightful, as they work exclusively on credit data and stock data compared to released financial statements (which is where the early warning indicators hide), most of the big data / credit services track enough data to come up with a reasonable financial risk score that at least lets you know whether, from a financial perspective, the supplier could be reasonably safe or is currently very risky — and needs a detailed analysis. Moreover, a financial health-focused offering by RapidRatings, and their FHR (Financial Health Rating) Report (which has been around for almost a decade), with an open example here, provides not only deep insight into potential risk, but the magnitude of the risk and the hard data for the risk — as well as the insights — and can detect risks from early warning signs that have not yet manifested in observable behavior (such as late payments).  In addition, RapidRatings’ new Financial Dialogue offering, which works in conjunction with the FHR, identifies the most important questions you should be asking your suppliers based on their health rating.  (An when you look at just the FHR report, you wonder why every organization is not doing at least this detailed level of supplier financial health analysis before committing a large or strategic spend to a supplier when all the data they need can be summarized in an easy to understand fashion.)

Now, you might say that because only one vendor, today, offers this depth of a report, which wasn’t previously available, and because the organization has done just fine without it for almost a decade, that you don’t need it, but SI would like to disagree. With global sourcing constituting so much of your supply chain, you don’t really know that much about your suppliers, their health, or the conditions in which they operate. And if they are supplying a custom made component, a raw material in limited supply, or a specialized service, the cost of recovery could be much greater than the initial cost of supply. These reports are becoming a necessity as part of your risk management.

SI is not saying you have to use RapidRatings or subscribe to their FHR reports (although they should be on your shortlist), but that you should at least do deep financial analysis on all of your strategic suppliers and use a platform to do it.  And while SI expects that other vendors with the same degree of analytic capability, financial know-how, and supplier insight — specifically Resilinc, FusionOps, and Simfoni — will soon attempt to release similar offerings, with their own unique spin, SI doubts that these other providers will be able to match the depth provided by RapidRatings for quite some time, as they are, respectively, focused on supply chain resilience, big data insights, and analytics on the go.  (However, if you are  currently using any of these vendors, you should work with them on their new analytic offerings as they can still offer other insights into the suitability of the supplier for your operation, assuming the supplier is financially viable enough to work with in the first place.)

While financial risk or financial health is only one KPI that should be used to analyze suppliers before qualifying them for inclusion in an event, it is an important one — the organization needs a supplier that will stay in business. Another KPI that should be included is a comprehensive CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) assessment, as you want responsible and sustainable suppliers, and this can be obtained as well from vendors such as Sedex Global and Ecovadis. Finally, once the supplier has been deemed financially stable and sufficiently responsible, an overall supply chain risk rating should be computed (based on geography, risk of natural disaster, political interference, etc.). This will require either a risk management vendor (such as Resilinc, Risk Methods, etc.) or an analytics vendor that pulls in feeds from one of these vendors.

It’s a lot, but if you can be sure in your supplier, that’s one less worry in your overly complex supply chain.