Ethical Corporation’s Project Director Elina Yumasheva opened the 10th iteration of Ethical Corporation’s Sustainable Supply Chain Summit with a call for engagement and participation: it’d be fair to say she got what she was hoping for from the first day’s sessions

Pierre-François Thaler, Co-Founder and Co-President of Ecovadis began the first session of the day by stating that of all the summits he attends annually “this is always one of the best,” before introducing Godefroy Motte, Chief Sustainability Officer at chemical specialists Eastman.

Godefroy immediately set the bar high for all those to follow over the two days, stating that as a CSO, he “doesn’t have a car” (a commendable choice in anyone’s mind) and that he “began thinking about sustainability at the age of three” when he realised his clothes were handed down from his older brother – two great anecdotes to set the tone from the top.

Godefroy continued the session on “Business Strategy and Supply Chain Sustainability” by advancing what was to be one of the main themes for the day: collaboration. Through Eastman’s work in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, they’ve managed to innovate, and build cross-industry standards for suppliers.

Expert speaker turned to welcomed participant in the following session, where Godefroy helped to illuminate the work that Eastman have done with Desso for an enquiring audience member.

Nicole Schaffroth, CSR Manager at Desso was joined on the stage by Matt Wilson, Head of Global Environmental Sustainability at GSK, Hannah Greenaway, Environment & CR Manager at O2, and Euan Murray, Chief Operating Officer at The Sustainability Consortium. Each did a fantastic job in explaining precisely what their companies are doing surrounding LCAs in an inspiring session.

Hannah Greenaway in particular fascinated by explaining that – in creating their Eco-rating system for both handsets and their manufacturers – it became necessary to collaborate not only with NGOs and stakeholders to improve and integrate the system, but with competitors too.

This kind of progressive thinking with regards to collaboration is essential if the SDGs are to be pursued and achieved. As Simon Brown of Natural Capital Partners noted later on at the summit, if we have individual companies setting out on their own to complete only the goals they feel applicable to them, there will be a significant “gap” in the economy which will need fixing.

Bibi Bleekemolen, Charlie Bradshaw, Susan Curtis, and Matthew de Villiers then took to the stage, representing Fairphone, MatrixAPA, Neal’s Yard Remedies and Greenstone respectively. The discussion concerned moving beyond audits to build trust and long term relationships with suppliers.

Bibi presented the amazing work Fairphone have done in becoming more directly involved in the supply chain; moving from a social enterprise, to a company actually making phones and having direct access to the electronics supply chain. Now they work closely with suppliers to improve social and environmental performance, and eradicate use of conflict minerals or hazardous substances. Particularly commendable was the work they’ve been doing with the Shanghai Gold Exchange in improving transparency behind imported precious metals.

Charlie Bradshaw presented an interesting solution being employed by his company; abandoning certification and audits in favour of a more direct approach. Where they had been led to learn – through audits – that half of their factories in China were compliant with fire safety standards, upon further inspection it appears that the audits were falsified, hence the relatively extreme measures.

Susan Curtis countered, saying she believed certification to be of great importance, and that Neal’s Yard are extremely proud of the formal recognition they’ve received for the work they’ve done.

Matthew de Villiers summarised the point succinctly; 

“Audits have been a panacea. A while ago, if you weren’t doing audits, you were naïve. Then, upon revelations of falsifications, you were naïve for believing your audits. Now, we’re discussing moving beyond audits; so audits have had a rather rough ride.”

After the break for lunch, both Meera Pau Mehta of Arcelor Mittal and Debbie Coulter, Head of Programmes at Ethical Trade Initiative, gave an impassioned talk on ethical trade in action and improved labour conditions. Debbie said that;

“Companies can no longer choose whether to engage with stakeholders or not, but only how they will do this. […] This isn’t a one-off engagement, it’s a dynamic and permanent agreement with the stakeholders who have an interest in your supply chain.”

The session culminated with an engaging audience participation project, in which Debbie Coulter provided a hypothetical case study (which she admitted was almost identical to the recent Apple farming travesty in Kent, UK) and from that, tables had to work in teams to answer a series of questions and consequently provide insight to their fellow attendees. Given the diversity of the audience in the room, an amazing global and cross-industry perspective was achieved.

From my table I learned how similar poor labour conditions forced competing companies such as Nike and Adidas to collaborate, and how certain companies are now forcing Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers to provide a direct phone line to relevant NGOs as a means of ensuring factory standards. And from the other side of the room, we heard of discussions surrounding the Gangmasters Licensing Act and of investigating the root cause of the problem: could the pressures of demand management or struggling labour brokers be to blame?

A busy and incredibly informative day ended with a choice of two Round Table Sessions; attendees were given the option of hearing about internal engagement from Centrica Plc and Ecovadis, or about R&D and product innovation from Troldtekt. I chose the latter, and was hugely impressed by Tina Snedker Kristensen, who elucidated the steps that the Danish acoustic panel producer had taken to become completely circular in gaining Cradle to Cradle certification.

In all, the day demonstrated how much of an international affair the Sustainable Supply Chain Conference is. Attendees heard of Neal’s Yard Remedies’ initiatives in Kenya and Malawi, the work Firmenich are doing to empower farmers and communities in Brazil, the steps MatrixAPA have taken in improving factory conditions in China, Molson Coors’ programme to support and improve the working environment for barley farmers in the UK, to name but a few.

Through all of the case studies, discussion, and plenary sessions though, the importance of collaboration, of engaging the supply chain, and of advancing beyond LCAs was made very clear – by expert speakers and attendees alike.

Read a review of the second day's sessions here.

If you’re interested in receiving visual and audio recordings of the proceedings from the course of the two days, please get in touch with Elina Yumasheva: 

Supply Chain Summit  conference  conference review 

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