Four ways to make your supply chain more ethical and sustainable
Princes is a UK Headquartered company turning over £1.5bn a year – a household name well known for a whole range of products that millions of people are aware of – Princes canned tuna, for instance – and perhaps some that they’re not – like Branston baked beans and Napolina tomatoes. They have fourteen manufacturing sites, and 2,200 tier-one suppliers. But this extensive product range and complex supply chain means that Princes commits significant time and effort to ensure that its supply chain meets its aspiring ethical and sustainability targets.
Ethical Trade Manager Paul Williams was appointed into this new role from the Princes buying team following the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015. He recalls that: ‘The new legislation was a catalyst for us to publically demonstrate our increased focus and we also found that many of our customers – supermarkets, wholesalers and convenience stores in the UK and Europe – were asking for more information from us.
For Fish Sustainability Manager at Princes, Chris Shearlock, ‘There is a clear prerogative for Princes to make sure our entire supply chain is acting responsibly, sustainably and ethically.’ In the case of tuna in the Indian Ocean, for instance, we’re a founding partner of the Sustainable Indian Ocean Tuna Initiative (SIOTI) where we’re working with others to make sure tuna stocks are responsibly managed.’
For Williams and Shearlock, they would like to share a number of important lessons that they have learned in making their supply chain more ethical and sustainable:
1. Map your supply chain.
Williams says that: ‘In order to understand the complete picture of what you are buying, manufacturing and selling you need to develop end-to-end visibility of your supply chain. In some instances, that can mean looking at up to tier-5 and tier-6 suppliers. The scale of this task is significant , so we are beginning by initially focusing on six countries that represent both our biggest potential to make a difference and our biggest potential risk.’
2. Do a risk assessment across all tiers.
Once you have a better grasp of your supply chain, you can then get an understanding of what potential risks may be involved at each level, whether that is concerning labour conditions, human rights and other possible ethical challenges or sustainability and environmental issues. Williams says that: ‘In Mauritius, we have spent lots of time understanding the recruitment process of migrant workers. Historically we found that workers were paying intermediary agents to apply for a role when they shouldn’t have and once we identified this risk we took the necessary steps to ensure it no longer happens.’
3. Be realistic about what you can achieve on your own.
Many issues are big, interlinked with one another, and it will take time to find a solution
. Issues like slavery and sustainable fishing stocks, for instance, cannot be solved by a single company and its suppliers – there has to be multi-lateral co-operation and it may take a long time to find a lasting, positive solution.
Shearlock says that: ‘we have our own very clear commitments to sustainable fisheries. For instance: we have committed that all the tuna we source has to either be Marine
Stewardship Council (MSC) certified or in a fisheries improvement project (FIP) by 2019. We launched Princes MSC single format can last May – we were the first major brand to bring MSC to the UK. We source MSC tuna in the West Pacific and we are working with fisheries improvement projects in the Indian Ocean and off Senegal in order to increase the supply of MSC certified tuna. But it is only through working with other companies, including our competitors, that we are able to guarantee the future of the fish stocks as a whole.’
4. Work with others to address the issues.
Shearlock says that: ‘For the first time we are working with direct competitors and supplying fleets – and trying to progress beyond simple transactional relationship; otherwise if you don’t solve the bigger problem then everyone will suffer. We all have to work on this together. In tuna there is a broad consensus that this is what needs to happen. It’s a process that we all have to be a part of.’
Princes has also joined the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). According to Williams, ‘that has been a positive catalyst for a company as large as ours. Being a member means submitting annual reports to monitor our progress which are submitted and read by other ETI members who may
be Trades unions or NGOs. This makes sure that we’re accountable for delivering against our aims and ensuring on-going communication and engagement with stakeholders . That includes human rights due diligence; and going down to tier 4, 5 and 6 to manage some of those risks. It is a long-term commitment and significant time, effort and resources are required.’
But the rewards of investment – and the risks of not investing – in having a more detailed supply chain are clear and Princes are confident that they can now position themselves as a leader in this area.