21 Aug 2020

Responsible Sourcing in the time of COVID19

Responsible Sourcing in the time of COVID19

Right now, millions in the west face challenges in our SARS COVID19 lockdown. Many millions more people who make things in our supply chains in Asia face a far greater challenge though with virtually no safety nets to fall back on.

In March 2020, many large western retailers were publicly criticised for cancelling orders with suppliers. In countries like Bangladesh, factories who had purchased materials for these orders, and in many cases had their workers cut and sew them, were left unable to pay workers for this work.

Factories have already started shutting down and laying off some of the poorest people in our global community. In response, a movement has started of petitions and campaigns to cause companies to “Pay-Up” for their orders placed, and some like H&M have committed to do so.

A first lesson in Responsible Sourcing at this time, is to contact suppliers and agree to pay somehow for goods ordered, even if an agreement on later shipping or payment is needed. For some suppliers related documentation can help them gain access to credit so they won’t need to layoff already poor workers.

A second step is efforts of some to innovate and use sourcing relationships to make masks and goods needed at this time. Whilst we may soon see an oversupply of masks, now is the time to consider all innovations. Some online fashion businesses have had strong sales. To help keep factories workers employed, a Responsible Sourcing approach would be to support Suppliers, by working together to convert to online or other innovations in demand in this market.

At SupplyESChange.com, our team in Asia are also working on remote assessments toward verifying that workers receive the wages, and safer more hygienic conditions needed at this time, and that in countries like Malaysia and Japan, foreign contract workers don’t face greater modern slavery risk than before given travel restrictions. We also apply China experience in risk assessing, given the increase in factories across China taking on Uighur workers in forced labour as operations reopen. You can hear more about this on the BBC here

Global Sourcing can help provide needed jobs for livelihoods. Dropping Suppliers at a time of need does not. Responsible Sourcing is about working together to continuously improve, and make efforts to fairly support people who make our things in our supply chains. Now is the time to step up and partner in Ethical Trade.


About the Author

Kate LarsenKate Larsen is a Responsible Sourcing and modern slavery prevention Advisor with over 17 years experience. Kate speaks mandarin Chinese and basic Japanese and lived and worked in Asia 11 years assessing, training and monitoring factories across 17 countries on labour, safety, and environmental Sustainability (water, energy/climate/carbon reductions) inside and alongside Sourcing teams.

Kate created the Asia Corporate Responsibility (Ethical Trade and Sustainability) programme for Burberry as a Senior Manager based in China and Hong Kong from 2006-12 after work in China. Kate then worked as Global Director Responsible Sourcing for US retailer “The Children’s Place” (TCP) following the Rana Plaza garment factories collapse tragedy and helped revamp the programme across Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and global sourcing for higher labour and safety standards.

In recent years Kate has advised many retail and other firms on how to establish Responsible Sourcing programmes and deliver on UK, Australia and USA Modern Slavery Act and customer Transparency in Supply Chains requirements efficiently and economically. Now leading SupplyESChange network, Kate was formerly Principal Consultant ERM (Environmental Resources Management) providing ESG (Environmental Social, governance) advisory for retail, fashion, and consumer goods brands, and their investors.

Kate was also formerly a Human Rights Watch team member on supply chains, led a World Bank project engaging the retail sector, has trained for the UK Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), input to OECD Guidelines, and trains on new investor ESG and Business Human Rights Due Diligence laws from the UNGPs particularly regarding supply chains and labour, and for SDGs, such as decent work and other Social Impacts.

Discover more retail insights

Our Partners