Why are corporations so reluctant to investigate where the products they buy (raw materials) to turn into the products they sell to you (consumer goods) come from? All these products exist along a supply chain. And around the world, supply chains connect slavery, child labor, and exploitation to the products you buy every day. Here are 10 common reasons corporations don’t want to investigate their supply chains:
10. They’re ignorant. It’s possible, though hard to believe in this age of rampant globalization, that some companies just really don’t know or believe that slavery and exploitation could be part of making their products. If that’s their line, however, I’m gonna have to see the size of the rock they’ve been living under for the past decade.
9. It’s challenging. For most major corporations, supply chains today are incredibly complicated. For example, a t-shirt might be sewn together in Cambodia with thread from Bangladesh and material woven in India. The cotton for those materials might have been picked in Uzbekistan or Guatemala. The sewn t-shirts could then ship to a distribution center in Thailand owned by a Chinese company but run and staffed by a wealthy Malaysian family. Once a t-shirt makes it into an American store, it might have been through several countries and facilities managed by dozens of companies, making it difficult to track.
8. They’re afraid of bad publicity. Some corporations are so afraid of associating their name with words like “sweatshop” and “child labor,” that they won’t even do it in the context of “Corporation X is investigating child labor in its supply chain.” A consumers, we need to let the companies we support know that investigating their supply chains is important to us, and that we’ll spend our money at companies who make a concerted effort to know where their raw materials come from.
7. It can be expensive. One of the best ways to monitor a supply chain is to use an impartial third party to oversee it — someone with nothing to gain from either finding or suppressing slavery or labor exploitation. But that can be expensive; even internal monitoring can cost some serious cash. It’s up to us as consumers to make sure companies know that the cost in lost profits if we find out they’ve refused to investigate potential problems will be higher than the cost of finding and ending them.
6. They don’t know where to get help. Some corporations want to be ethical when it comes to monitoring their supply chains, but they aren’t sure how to go about it. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions, from software that can improve tracking to NGOs who can help you figure out how to keep an eye on factory conditions and what protocols to put in place. If you’re part of a corporation looking to do better but you don’t know how, please message me and I promise to put you in touch with people who can help you.
5. They’re lazy. Corporate culture is powerful, and sometimes the “this is how things have been done” mentality is all a company needs to refuse change. We need to say very clearly to corporations that we won’t stand for laziness when it comes to supply chain monitoring. If you can’t show us your products are untainted by slavery, we’ll go somewhere else.
4. They think it’s not their problem. Companies outsource so much now, they have a vast number of other companies and people to blame for their problems. This blame-shifting has gotten so bad, I think some corporations are starting to believe it. “So a factory building my computers is forcing 9-year-olds to operate dangerous machines? That’s their problem, not mine.” No, Mr. CEO, if it’s your product, it’s your problem.
3. No one has asked them to. Companies are responsive to consumer demands, so it’s exceedingly possible that they don’t investigate their supply chains because we haven’t asked them to. Have you written a letter to Company X and asked for a Fair Trade version of your favorite product?
2. They know what they’ll find. It’s also possible that they’ve done the math, and they realize that they can get those DVD cases/shoe laces/corn syrup so cheap because the factory making it is not paying its employees minimum wage. They’re happy for the deal, and they aren’t going to look for the exploitation they know is there.
1. They want to be able to claim ignorance. I think the #1 reason corporations won’t investigate their supply chains is that they’re afraid there is slavery and exploitation in them, and they’d rather claim ignorance than responsibility. They don’t know for sure that it’s happening, but they have enough clues (see math example from #2) to take action. But they figure what they don’t know won’t hurt them.
Photo credit: somegeekintn