Best Practices for Collecting and Standardizing the Supply Chain Data of a Brand
In Part One of our two-part series, we provided some examples of how to gain visibility into your supply chain. Here, we examine some best practices for the supply chain data of a brand.
Putting systems in place for continual data gathering and process management in a brand can be complex, in part because the answer isn’t always more technology. The key is to think creatively and flexibly about the best ways to capture supply chain data given the diverse resources available to your suppliers.
- Automate measurement. From carbon emissions to water quality, waste and chemical consumption, automating data capture can be an efficient and valid way to create a path to improvement. In the textile community, brands have worked with suppliers to replace unsustainable water quality testing programs by installing relatively inexpensive water quality sensors. The sensors provide real-time data to the factories so that changes in pH or temperature can be monitored and addressed in real-time. Factories then have visibility to fix problems immediately, protecting both the environment and their compliance status. The brand has real-time, verifiable data they can stand behind with confidence.
- Simplify the process for suppliers. The less burdensome it is for your factory partners to capture data, the greater the chance you will receive more and better information for analysis. Be flexible and provide multiple options for responders to submit information into a common system. Some facilities are reliant on fax machines and paper scans, others will want to put it all in a spreadsheet to send, and some can fully integrate their resource planning systems with a brand’s cross-supplier system. Give factories options to best suit their capabilities.
- Engage workers where they are. The mechanisms for collecting fair factory data, for example, should remind, engage and encourage feedback in ways that align with worker needs. Text message/SMS can be a smart way to connect with workers and survey groups in real-time, requiring minimal effort from respondents and providing data that is timely, fresh and direct.
- Localize at every step. Limiting your processes to English can be a huge barrier to getting the insight you need. Brands need native speakers on the ground to train, educate and engage workers and managers on the systems you put in place.
When brands and their suppliers come together for change, the benefits can be remarkable.
In 2013, ethical trade consultants Impactt launched the Benefits for Business and Workers (BBW) program, which brought together garment buyers from top retailers with 70+ garment factories and the UK government.
The program offered training to increase productivity while offering better wages to workers, resulting in productivity gains of up to 26% and average factory cost savings of more than £40,000.
In addition, twenty leading brands have committed to the ZDHC Roadmap to Zero Programme, an initiative designed to minimize the hazardous chemical impacts of textile production. A pilot program was run by five ZDHC brands, in collaboration with suppliers in five countries, to test the feasibility of collecting and reporting on chemical purchase information to establish data standards across the supply base.
Spot-checks and periodic audits will remain a valuable and vital part of supply chain management. Shifting more emphasis toward partnership and empowerment, however, will deliver greater ROI. With a continuous stream of authentic social and environmental data from suppliers, a brand will have a rolling history to work with that is more transparent, less open to falsification, and valuable from a BI perspective. Putting these systems in place requires investment in your partners, cultural changes and process adaptation, and the outcome is likely to be lower costs, lower risk, and a more efficient use of your sustainability budget.
Ben Wilde is a director at ADEC Innovations, a leader in advancing sustainable practices around the world and helping organizations grow and operate responsibly. To stay current on global sustainability issues, subscribe to our monthly newsletter, GreenWatch.
Originally published in SDC Executive.