In a world where more people have access to mobile phones than to safe water, how can technology help scale up sustainable supply chains? Here are four suggestions from an expert panel at the Sedex Global Responsible Sourcing Conference, held in March 2015.
1. Use technology to digest big data into actionable, usable results
“Technology is providing an interesting stepping stone, where it is possible to demonstrate commitments. Transparency is rapidly increasing and companies should view this paradigm shift as opportunity rather than a threat,” said Anne Rosenbarger, Southeast Asia Commodities Manager at the World Resources Institute. She said there is a role for greater technology in sustainability and CSR: “Modern technology provides us with better, more accurate and timely data, covering broader geographical range. But perhaps even more importantly, technology helps us to make sense of all this data, turn it into usable, actionable results that can be used across commodities and supply chains.”
According to Lance Younger, CEO at Statess, for data to be usable it needs to be accessible, integrated and relevant: “You need to be very clear what are the data points you require, otherwise big data can be scary. In reality what you need is small data that is relevant to you, that would enable you to act on it.”
2. Keep up to date with trends but be flexible
Gregory Elders, Senior ESG Analyst at Bloomberg, said that intelligence data is taking a more central role in the corporate decision-making process and Bloomberg has seen a 50 percent increase annually in the take-up of its business and market analysis services over recent years. As he pointed out: “If you are not keeping up to date with potential risks, someone else will identify them and you will be falling behind.” However, Younger suggested not committing too much to one technology, as the sustainability landscape is changing rapidly and technology is quickly becoming outdated.
3. Make it relevant all the way down supply chain
The panellists agreed that making technology and data relevant all the way down the supply chain is a challenge — particularly at the level of smallholders, which are often less visible throughout supply chains. “We’ve been talking about big data for years and it is nothing new, but it is relatively new within sustainability and we really need to understand the data – it should come from the ground, from suppliers,” said Tom Smith, Acting General Manager at Sedex Exchange. Younger suggested being specific about what you are trying to achieve, start small and build up: “First, think about building capability and then use technology to empower your supply chain.”
4. Be creative, innovative and collaborative
The panel agreed that there are many exciting new ways of collecting information, especially regarding how it actually works on the ground, in the field and in the factory. It is also important to be creative and innovative, as in some parts of the world even the most basic communication tools are not accessible.
There are plenty of challenges and complexities within global supply chains — forced and child labour, for example — that even the best technology is unable to tackle when used in isolation. Collaboration among different stakeholders — both on the buyers and supplier level, as well as among technology and sustainability experts — is key in driving CSR technology and scaling up positive change within global supply chains.
This post first appeared on Sedex's blog on June 16, 2015.