Ethics say more about your business than you might imagine. It’s not just a way to catch customers’ attention (though it does) and it’s not even just a way to show your moral standing as a business person (thought it does that, too). Solid business ethics can protect you from being held culpable for damage done on your behalf; they help establish positive practices across the industry; and they give you a chance to notice inefficient or unprofitable points in your supply chain, boosting your bottom line. You and the world stand to benefit from your attention.
If you’ve been following the advice on Businessing Magazine, you already know how much we value helping business owners find the best practices possible. Here, we’ve gathered up some advice on how to evaluate your supply chain, choose ethical suppliers, and ensure your company is doing its part for the greater good of your community.
Create an Ethics Evaluation Team
Your first step as a business is to have some sort of ethics evaluation team within your company hierarchy. This is a group of employees dedicated to taking on ethics-related tasks, both internally and externally. An ethics team is a great business move because it keeps your company safe, and it shows customers you care. As the owner, you should be closely involved with this team, if not actively on it.
You can create this team from internal candidates or hire outside, but a combination of the two makes the best sense. This allows you to blend outside ethics experts with existing staffers who understand your business already. You can also supplement this team with freelancers for specific tasks. For example, if you need to research a specific link on your supply chain, it makes sense to hire someone with expertise in project management to keep that research on track and ensure that it is completed within the timeline. Focus on filling this team with people who you can trust to do work with dedication and character.
Once you start evaluating your supply chain, your best bet is a questions-driven approach. Think of yourself as an investigative journalist who won’t rest until you have the full picture. Ask your suppliers about how they source their products, then talk to that point in the chain. Go all the way back, evaluating the situation for every artist, factory worker, delivery driver, and logistics employee along the way. What are their lives like? Are they paid enough to live comfortably? Are they treated well at work?
There may not be easy answers to these questions. The work of ethics is inherently complicated, and you may find yourself unsure of whether or not you can take answers at face value. Don’t be afraid to keep digging until you’re satisfied.
Look at the Chain from a Distance
Finally, make a point to look at the big picture when it comes to supply chain ethics. We come into any investigation with our own biases and expectations, but these aren’t always useful on a broad scale. For example, you shouldn’t react to wages until you have a sense for what’s normal in the area– especially if you’re working with a company in a foreign country.
A living wage in the US is very different from a living wage in other places. You might be shocked by a small pay rate only to discover that it’s a perfectly acceptable wage in an area with a much lower cost of living. This is just one example of how important it is to look at the whole picture. Zooming out can contextualize practices that seem unethical at first glance, and it can also alert you to unethical practices that are seen as “normal” and, as a result, fly under the radar.
Ensuring ethics at every point along your supply chain is hard work, but it’s well worth it. This continuous process allows you to sell your product, confident that all of the human lives along the chain are valued and cared for. When you consider your company’s place in the global community, you foster a culture where everyone matters, which is truly, a worthwhile pursuit.