Building Ethical Supply Chains
8 May 2018 at 8:22 am
Our ever-more interconnected world brings us incredible luxuries and opportunities. But it also obscures the suffering caused by the production of our goods; diffuses and dilutes accountability; and can make ethical choice-making overwhelming and unclear.
Lengthening supply chains are also a major cause of catastrophic global warming, with International transport responsible for a whole third of trade-related emissions.
So, what does a conscientious professional do about this? Shopping ethically is important, but it only gets us so far. Choosing a Fairtrade latte may absolve some consumer guilt, but it doesn’t necessarily tackle the systemic issues that make unethically produced coffee the cheaper and more readily available alternative.
The field of supply chain logistics examines these ethical questions at the root level. Supply chain logistics is relevant to a huge range of industries, from real estate to telecommunications. Because they play an indispensable role in the functioning of large organisations, supply chain managers often have the leverage to effect humanitarian and environmental change.
The convoluted journey of many modern goods can make it difficult to trace and measure the impact of their production – even for employees of the companies involved. One of the roles of supply chain and logistics professionals is to research supply chains, to untangle them.
They are concerned with understanding and analysing legislation, to determine how it will apply to different elements of the process. Then, they review internal policies and supply agreements to adjust terms and conditions according to their findings.
Unethical supply chains can be a ticking time bomb for companies. Recent corporate history is littered with high-profile human rights and environmental crises that can devastate the business that caused them. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the 2013 garment factory collapse in Savar, Bangladesh, are extreme examples, but less spectacular scandals – like the 2017 revelations that Australian supermarkets were stocking prawns that were unethically farmed in Thailand – can still have huge legal and PR consequences.
After a media storm has passed, organisations can go back to the same fraught practices surprisingly quickly. This isn’t necessarily intentional, but can stem from a combination of side effects of the crisis. First, people accountable for the crisis may face disciplinary action, potentially taking their retrospective knowledge of what should have been done differently with them. Second, companies commonly choose a strategy of minimising and not talking about past mistakes in the hope that they’ll blow over. This can lead to a culture of taboo that dampens the possibility of an honest conversation, and after a flurry of superficial damage control, business goes on as usual. Professionals trained in supply chain logistics can fight against these trends by retaining a deep data history of what occurred, and implement tangible changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Making a change
When it comes to ethics, corporate cultures can sometimes be reluctant to do more than the minimum required to meet legislative standards. But practices of corporate social responsibility that go beyond risk-mitigation and marketing spin can have incredible outcomes for consumer trust and employee morale – a corporation’s bottom line isn’t the only thing that matters.
Supply chain logistics could be your path to a lucrative, engaging career that empowers you to make a difference for people and the environment. A master’s degree in supply chain logistics management can give you the formal qualifications and technical expertise to excel in this exciting field.
RMIT University’s online Master of Supply Chain and Logistics Management will give you experience in real-world projects and is certified by CILTA, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in Australia. The intensive, world-class course takes two years to complete and is conducted entirely online; which means you can study where you want, when you want and how you want. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be on your own – the training comes with comprehensive support from leaders in the field.