To focus on savings alone is to sell procurement short and miss out on its potentially game-changing capabilities.
A good procurement team can save your business money. This goes without saying. Savings are for procurement what risk mitigation is for legal, innovation is for R&D, and new business is for sales. They’re table stakes, just the very beginning of what a well-equipped and well-staffed function should offer the organisation. To focus on savings alone is to sell procurement short and miss out on its potentially game-changing capabilities.
While reducing costs remains the top priority for today’s procurement teams, it’s high time for the function to evolve its objectives and diversify its value proposition. With visibility across the global supply chain, procurement is perfectly equipped to address the monumental concerns that plague the business world. Labour violations, pollution, animal rights, and ethics – they’re all issues as relevant to procurement as cycle times and pricing.
Simply put, procurement is capable of more than saving money. It’s capable of saving lives and it might just help us save the planet.
Procurement Can . . . Save Lives
Stopping Forced Labor
It’s appalling that, in 2019, forced labor is still endemic across various global supply chains. What’s worse is that the United States imports more “at risk” products than any other country in the world. According to the Global Slavery Index, the U.S. brought in more than $144 billion of these products and commodities. They report that electronics, fish, cocoa, garments, and natural resources like gold and timber present an especially high risk.
On a more hopeful note, the nation’s score on the Government Response Index ranks behind just the Netherlands. Still, with as many as 400,000 modern slavery victims within its borders, it’s clear the United States must do more. The scope of the forced labor crisis is such that companies in nearly every industry are touched by it in some capacity. Due diligence has grown both increasingly imperative and increasingly challenging. Organizations like Rip Curl and Badger Sportswear present recent examples of what can happen when an American business fails to gain and sustain visibility across the globe.
Methods for assessing suppliers, monitoring their behavior, and addressing violations must all evolve. It’s more dangerous than ever to settle for a low price or select a provider based on an incomplete set of considerations. Supplier capacity, for example, is a more nuanced issue than Procurement may have previously considered it. Under-resourced suppliers might partner with unscrupulous organizations if they’re faced with demand that outstrips expectations. The onus also falls on procurement to provide better, more accurate forecasts to avoid such a situation. Data won’t just provide the means to secure better pricing and anticipate consumer tastes, but to eliminate human rights violations.
Forced labor is a shared issue that requires a shared response. It’s up to organisations who purchase high-risk commodities or operate in high-risk regions to collaborate with their competitors. Joining groups like the garment industry’s Fair Labor Association or the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, they can elevate industry wide standards and recognize organizations for setting particularly excellent (or particularly poor) examples.
Supporting Disaster Relief
Few things keep supply chain managers up at night like the specter of extreme weather. As an increasingly volatile climate threatens shipping lanes, roads, and storage facilities, disaster preparedness has become a year-round concern – even for organizations that do not operate in “high risk” areas. In 2018, hurricanes alone caused more than $50 billion in damages throughout the Americas.
Crucially, it’s not just the business world that suffers when hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters strike. Damaged roads and lost power leave consumers without access to necessities like clean drinking water and medications. Sometimes they’re without these essentials for months at a time. Beyond repairing their own supply chains, well-prepared procurement teams can participate in a broader, more socially responsible form of disaster relief.
Accurate, proactive forecasting makes it possible for businesses to continue serving their communities even in the wake of natural disasters. In addition to avoiding disruptions of their own, they’ll ensure consumers experience minimal disruption. Remember, supply chain hiccups are often more deadly than natural disasters themselves. This was the case when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico back in 2017. Experts estimate the vast majority of deaths were caused by interruptions to the supply chain for health care and life-saving medicines. In a sense, disaster relief efforts failed because of “final mile” complications.
Evolving technologies will prove essential for extending these supply chains and mitigating the human cost of extreme weather. Unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) promise to play an especially active role. While drone-based deliveries for food or Amazon packages tend to dominate the headlines, recent pilot tests suggests they may soon serve a higher purpose. In the aftermath of Maria, non-profit Direct Relief partnered with Merck, AT&T, and other providers to test the viability of medication delivery drones. The drones provide temperature-controlled storage for sensitive materials and come equipped with real-time monitoring to adjust their flight paths as necessary. With each party providing their own expertise and resources, the pilot tests provide a case study in socially responsible collaboration.
Procurement Can . . . Do More
In the past, organisations may have neglected to invest in sustainable and responsible initiatives. The fear of higher costs and harder work likely stayed their hands. Businesses need to stop asking whether or not they can afford to behave ethically. They should ask, instead, how much longer they can afford not to. More and more, consumers are growing tired of inaction. They’ve also grown increasingly wary of inauthenticity. Where simple greenwashing might have sufficed in the past, new generations of consumer are increasingly skeptical and unforgiving when it comes to corporate behavior. The most recent Deloitte Millennial survey found that a quarter of young consumers don’t consider business leaders trustworthy, less than half consider them ethical. They’re not the only ones. Across every generation, the desire for ethical, responsible business practices has evolved into a demand.
In my next blog, I’ll look at how procurement teams across the globe can (and already do) lead the way on sustainability. Eliminating plastic, identifying sustainable alternatives, and reducing emissions, the function is equipped to set and enforce a new environmental standard.
In the meantime, why not register as a Digital Delegate for this year’s Big Ideas Summit Chicago? You’ll enjoy the chance to sit in on thought leadership presentations from some of the Supply Chain’s most thoughtful, innovative, and successful professionals – all without leaving your desk.