[personal profile] lanlin
Global supply chains have difficulties in ensuring the products from an ethical supplier. For example, the material for a cell phone could be from an artisanal mine in Eastern Congo where children are forced to work by armed men; then the cell phone might be manufactured in a factory in Shenzhen China, where over a dozen suicide happened in a year related to overwork. Another example is heparin produced in China. As a pharmaceutical product, heparin is supposed to be clean when it gets into hospital; however, there was a scandal two years ago, which about 80 people died because of contaminated heparin. Even worse, some suppliers use mimicked heparin to substitute the real one, because the cost for mimicked heparin is only $9 per pound, while it is $900 per pound for the real heparin. Both Chinese and American government failed in auditing and supervision to prevent such a tragedy to happen.

The critical problem of global supply chain is that it is supranational. On one hand, national governments only focus on local problems and don’t want to subordinate local interests to international issues. On the other hand, most companies don’t have any mechanism to ensure ethical supply chain. To solve this problem, in 1996, President Clinton organized a meeting for industry, human rights NGOs, trade unions and the Department of Labour. After three-year discussion, they figured out a solution; that is, multinational corporations will set the code of conduct and apply it throughout the global supply chain. Because suppliers don’t want to lose contracts with big brand names, the code of conduct is actually more powerful than local laws and regulations related to human rights, environment and labour.

But we can’t leave global supply chain management completely to business because of their profit-oriented nature. We need a platform that multinational corporations, civil society and others can work together to achieve greater global public good. Fair Labour Association (FLA) provides such a place. There are now 4,000 company members. Under the principle of “trust, but verify”, FLA enlists multinational companies, gives them tool to protect human rights along supply chain, audits them through random inspection, and discloses the audit results online to the public. The speaker encourages everyone to join the effort to take the responsibility that governments have failed and make sure the product we use are from someone working with dignity.

-- TED Talk, Auret van Heerden



June 2013


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