Customers want to make an impact. How can companies be more transparent and give consumers the power to make influential choices? Companies are expected to make their supply chains both transparent and traceable—because consumers want to know where their products come from. Storytelling can also help promote sustainable practices and ethical sourcing—as well as create connections between consumers and suppliers or growers. “It’s a business opportunity to build trust with your brand,” one participant said.
Accountability and transparency help reduce a company’s risk. The stakes are especially high for human rights risks. Companies have been making progress on issues such as forced labor and mitigating the progress of disease in Central American banana workers. At the company level, one panelist said, addressing human rights is an issue of will, not ability: “If you want to make sure your supply chain is safe, invest in it.” In some areas, field workers are empowered to document and report risks or violations. However, revealing risk can be problematic. As one participant put it, companies “want to know the extent of the problem, but knowing the extent of the problem puts them at risk” of punitive regulatory action.
What we need is to transform the entire business model into truly more forwardthinking models that drive market-level change. The opportunity for collaboration and sharing in the pre-competitive field is huge. One pre-competitive recycling coalition spans the value chain from retail to brand to supplier to container manufacturer—all the way back to the recycling infrastructure that “harvests” the container from the consumer after use. Industry-driven interventions can align market pull and push to strengthen the value chain toward the most sustainable value opportunities.
In cross-industry collaboration, how do we create and support partnerships for sustainability? Academic organizations and nonprofits can provide valuable support. One nonprofit uses scorecards, similar to investment scorecards, when working with apparel companies on deforestation in the Amazon. One NGO’s challenge to companies asks: Are you part of the problem, and, if so, do you have the power to fix the problem? Academic partners can add value to these partnerships by helping to assess risks and benefits through risk management models, for example. Erb Institute | Innovation Forum | 2