Truly ethical brands only choose ethical suppliers. Ensuring that promises of ethical practice extend beyond a brand’s own borders and into its supply chain is shifting from something that’s desirable, to something that’s necessary. Popular opinion increasingly holds that brands sourcing their energy, materials, services, etc., from suppliers that engage in unethical practices are at least partially complicit in these unethical practices. And when today’s increasingly ethically conscious consumers catch wind of unethical occurrences taking place down supply chains, reputations and profits can and do suffer further down the line. So, for the sake of your ethical conscience and brand reputation, it’s best to ensure that the suppliers making up your brand’s supply chain uphold ethical standards too.
And despite what many might suspect, choosing ethical suppliers needn’t result in financial detriment. Lush are one of the original brands to boast an ethical approach within all areas of their business conduct, including the selection of their suppliers. With 900 stores worldwide and annual profits last year of 73.5m, this brand is a shining example of how success and strict selection of ethical suppliers can go hand in hand.
But how does a brand go about choosing ethical suppliers? The answer is by running checks and audits in what’s termed a pre-qualification.
So, what exactly should you be looking for in the pre-qualification process?
One of the easiest ways to check a supplier’s environmental accountability is by asking if they hold any official environmental certification. Certificates such as ISO 14001 are only issued to brands that make efforts to monitor their environmental practices and impacts, and comply with all legal environmental requirements. Possession of this kind of official, externally accredited documentation is a strong indication that a supplier has environmental commitments, and that these commitments are upheld. Also ask suppliers if they have any of their own specific environmental policies, practices or targets. Going above and beyond the requirements needed to earn flashy, PR boosting certificates demonstrates a deeper, sincerer commitment, minimising negative environmental impact.
You might also want to consider checking whether a supplier has ever faced prosecution for breaking environmental law. Old habits sometimes die hard. And past conduct marks present reputation.
Scrutinising the environmental friendliness of a supplier’s product or service is another course of pre-qualification action you might want to consider. For example, you could ask an energy provider how much of their power is generated using renewable sources. Similarly, you could ask a furniture supplier whether they work with sustainably sourced wood. Assessing the environmental friendliness of products or services may depend to some extent upon arbitrary judgment, but can still offer useful insights into the environmental accountability of suppliers.
The social responsibility of brands can be a little harder to check. But all brands have reputations and these reputations are generally grounded in at least some truth. So consider how a supplier is publically perceived. This will give some broad indication of how that supplier treats its staff and its customers.
There are, however, a few checks you can make to get more of a solid understanding of how socially responsible a supplier is. One option is to look into whether a supplier has ever broken laws regarding the treatment of its staff or customers. Asking suppliers whether they can produce evidence supporting their compliance with International Labour Organisation standards is also a good idea. If a supplier is based in a developing country, fair trade accreditation is steadfast evidence of responsible treatment of workers.
As with when investigating a supplier’s environmental friendliness, another recommendation is to ask suppliers about their own specific social initiatives. Do they regularly assess and mitigate their own social risks? Do they have, and do they implement their own staff welfare policies? Do they offer support to any charities? If so, is this more than a token support? Answers to questions such as these can be used to gauge how seriously a supplier takes its social responsibilities.
Sometimes, you might deem deeper checks to be desirable or necessary.
Vetting what information is available about a supplier’s directors and senior figures can throw up useful information that can be suggestive of a supplier’s wider brand culture. Any evidence of top-level bribery or corruption is an immediate red flag. If you want to find information about people who hold company reins, some can be acquired from firms that deal in business information and risk assessment management. For a valuable source of inside information, consider contacting supplier’s workers directly. This is a method employed by Adidas. The sports ware brand urges those working for their suppliers to share their grievances directly with them via anonymous texts.
Ultimately, what your pre-qualification checks consist of is up to you. But by ensuring that they’re thorough, you can rest at greater ease knowing that your commitment to your brand’s ethical commitments is secured upon firmer foundations.
Read our article to learn more about what makes Bee Green Communications an ethical and green brand and how we incorporate greener choices into our working practices.