As ongoing media coverage on the topic of supply chain transparency rages on, we are continuously inundated with headlines stating that investors, governments and consumers are demanding supply chain transparency. One recent example comes from the food industry. A campaign called, “Behind the Brands,” was conducted by Oxfam, and the results have led to some eye-opening conclusions regarding the lack of transparency in the food industry. Investors in large food and beverage corporations such as Coca-Cola, Unilever and Nestle are, as a result, calling for more transparent supply chains to help improve risk and opportunity assessment in the field of supply chain management. These calls to action by investors could perhaps be directly related to the fact that Oxfam created a Brand Scorecard pitting companies and their supply chain network ethics directly against each other.
With or without a scorecard, many companies appear to be responding with timely press releases and social media activities which promise improvement. Some companies have even been able to prove they are taking steps to shed some light onto their once foggy supply chain and procurement practices. One example is the clothing retailer H&M. Much like the food industry, the clothing industry has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons as of late, including factory fires and building collapses as well as poor working conditions abroad. In the wake of the bad publicity, H&M has dedicated itself to informing its customers and other stakeholders about its efforts to create a transparent supply chain as they stress the importance of knowing not only their direct suppliers but also those that supply their suppliers. Despite their efforts, further bad publicity regarding questionable supplier practices has created a set-back for H&M as the company allegedly has workers in Bangladesh working 15-hours per day.
The question however remains: Do consumers really care about supply chain transparency?
The combination of two news articles really led me to this question. The first article was posted in the Guardian and called for consumers to flat-out stop buying Apple products until the company addresses its murky sourcing and manufacturing practices. The author, George Monbiot, calls Apple’s tin procurement practices into question. It is believed that Apple is using the Bangka and Belitung islands in Indonesia as a source for tin, where child labor is heavily relied upon and environmental impacts are not taken into consideration during the mining process. Accusations against Apple’s suppliers and the company’s procurement practices are, however, nothing new.
The second article that really had me wondering about the relevance of supply chain transparency for consumers and which serves as a direct rebuttal to any boycott calls, is titled “Apple sells Record 9 Million IPhones in Debut Weekend.” Both of these articles, the call for a boycott and the record setting figures, were released on the same day. Apple sets a record despite growing supply chain criticism and its secretive supply chain and procurement practices.
I am not trying to single out Apple. Amazon, for example, has recently been criticized for its lack of sustainable practices along its supply chain. A fire recently destroyed a Coca-Cola bottling factory in India. Ironically enough, with all of the negative press that these supply chains get, Apple was number one on Gartner’s top 25 supply chain list with Amazon placing third and Coca-Cola being ranked number nine.
This of course begs the question: Is supply chain transparency, or the lack thereof, really impacting consumer decision making? And a follow-up, related question: Is there a double-standard regarding supply chain transparency when consumer industry giants are called into question?
I must admit, I own an iPhone and ordered something from Amazon last week. This is not a blog entry to try and make iPhone owners and Amazon fans feel bad, but rather an attempt to gauge the impact supply chain transparency really has on consumer behavior as this has become a topic that clearly cannot be ignored. I for one will be keeping an eye on the Brand Scorecard to see if the food giants of this world make a concentrated effort to improve supply chain transparency and increase procurement standards.
Looking forward to your thoughts!