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Ethical supply chains: Are retailers doing enough?

  • Thursday, October 27, 2016
  • Events

The interplay of business and human rights has never been higher up the international agenda.
For instance a recent BBC investigation into a factory in Turkey found Syrian refugee children, employed through a middleman, reportedly making clothes for Marks & Spencer and online retailer Asos.

Both companies say they carefully monitor their supply chains and do not tolerate the exploitation of refugees or children. M&S said all of its suppliers were contractually required to comply with its Global Sourcing Principles.

Ismail Erturk, senior lecturer in banking at Alliance MBS, said the retailers’ general response to the findings of the BBC programme was ignorance in sub-contracting stages in the supply chains.

But he says in an industry like retailing, where huge investments in sophisticated information technology to understand consumer behaviour to generate high returns for shareholders is legendary, it is not “ethically justifiable” to claim ignorance regarding information and data in global supply chains.
“Basically the retailers mentioned on the programme made a choice regarding what they wanted to know and what kind of information systems they want to invest in. In electronics, for example, the competition in supply chains generally involves real-time transparency about all sub-contractors and their costs. There is no reason why such investments in the clothing sector cannot be made,” he said.

Dr Noemi Sinkovics, lecturer in International Business and Management at Alliance MBS, says a more systemic solution is needed that involves collective effort either at sectoral level or at national and/or transnational level to address the issues raised in the BBC documentary. “Major brands need to work together with suppliers, governments and other organisations that are more embedded in local contexts.”

Alliance MBS will be hosting a very timely debate on the role of business in the refugee crisis on November 22 from 5.45pm – 7.50pm.

Our Vital Topics event will be chaired by Professor Ken McPhail, Vice Dean Social Responsibility, and our panel will include leading academics, retailers and humanitarian organisations including:

Michael Posner, Professor of Ethics and Finance and Co-Director, Centre of Business and Human Rights, NYU’s Stern School of Business
Adil Rehman, Programmes Manager, CSR, Next plc
Joe Bardwell, Corporate Accountability & Communications Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Dr Ayman S Jundi, Trustee and General Secretary, Syria Relief
Professor Stephanie Barrientos, Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester