Practical steps for retailers to achieve REACH compliance

I remember sitting, head in hands, trying to wrap my head around it.

REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & restriction of Chemicals)

As someone whose science schooling ended at GSCE/O-Level, getting my head around substances, preparations and articles was certainly a strain. And that’s before I got onto when is an article an article!

Anyway, this post isn’t on the ins and outs of REACH legislation or the intricacies of non-food technology. That’s your domain. And I’m confident there’s little new I could share.

However, I do feel that I can provide some value on some of the practical steps to achieving REACH compliance.

Know what you don’t know

At its most simplistic, REACH hinges on four supplier-orientated questions:

  1. Are they currently a supplier? (Own label and branded)
  2. Are the products they supply done so ‘free on board’ (FOB)?
  3. Do any of the products they supply contain substances of very high concern (SVHCs)?
  4. Do any chemicals within those products exceed one tonne across your supply chain?

As with anything beyond your organisation’s firewall, getting answers to seemingly simply questions can get frustratingly difficult. And REACH is no exception.

However, by knowing which of these questions you can - and more importantly cannot - answer, you take the first important step on the road to REACH compliance.  The first step is ensuring you have the right suppliers – and by that I mean the right contacts at each supplier – and the list of relevant products.

The carrot

Complete projects including REACH compliance sooner by getting to the right supplier and the right person first-time, resulting in less project resource needed (lower costs!) due to less chasing and ultimately more time to add value using your core expertise (more innovation!).

We all have that list of projects we wish we had time for…

The stick

Unlimited fine and five years in prison. Perhaps slightly extreme, but those terms are written into REACH all the same.

Risk and impact assessment

We begin by verifying that your collated list of suppliers do currently supply products to you and that the person you’re speaking to is the most appropriate contact for technical queries.

Include suppliers in your calculations who no longer supply and you may unnecessarily pay to register chemicals with a Substance Information Exchange Forum (SIEF) due to incorrectly inflated volumes.

Miss some out, and you may be falling foul of the law.

REACH doesn’t ask for supreme-being levels of supply chain knowledge. We all live with the challenges of managing complex modern supply chains. But it does ask for due diligence. And in my personal opinion, creating a definitive list of existing suppliers is due diligence 101.

Question one: Is it a freebie?

Once we have our definitive list of branded and own label suppliers we need to understand which products REACH applies to.

The first criteria for this is whether or not they are imported free on board.

Now, I don’t know the quality of your sourcing information. But the systems I’ve interacted with are not to the standard that I’d feel comfortable using to assert if a product is FOB with 100% confidence. And if you were to analyse and interrogate them until you were, you’d not have much time to perform the other parts of your role.

One key benefit of Supplier Engagement and supply chain data collection done well is that it helps keep own label teams lean. Lean teams mean more competitive products. More competitive products mean greater shared success.

Growing the traditional definition of your own label team to include your suppliers not only scales your own expertise, experience and resource - but multiplies the impact by harnessing your suppliers’ expertise too.

Think about it like this: wouldn’t you like to have a team of 500 technical professionals helping you with this? By including your suppliers, that’s exactly what you have. That’s the principle of 'One Team'.

Question two: Is it free from?

I understand from some of my technologist friends that testing for some SVHCs is still in its infancy. Add onto that the perception of some that certain regions of the world have less than glowing reputations for supply chain transparency and you have a short but difficult question to pose to many suppliers and brokers/agents: Do the FOB products contain any SVHCs?

Often when presented with these types of questions, those within retail – suppliers and retailers alike - can be known to procrastinate. After all, it’s not like we don’t have other things to be getting on with. However, this can spell a long, slow demise for any supply chain data collection exercise.

The key to avoiding this trap is providing suppliers with some leeway. I recommend doing this by asking a non-binary question:

Does this product contain any SVHCs? (Note to survey creator: Don’t forget to keep a handy, searchable list of SVHCs nearby!)

  • Yes
  • Unsure, but I think yes
  • Unsure, but I think no
  • No

It may feel counter intuitive to introduce ‘grey’ to a matter of ‘black and white’ compliance. But I much preferred to know ‘grey but on the whiter side’ than not knowing anything at all. Greyness in this context allows you to make progress – you’re able to move forward closer to compliance. And as you’ll read later, we have further steps to turn those greys into blacks or whites later.

Question 3: Chemical quantities

The final piece we need to cover within our REACH risk and impact assessment is the one tonne import limit for any chemical. And there are a number of ways to approach collecting this information.

Ultimately, we need to know the volume of each chemical present within every product supplied FOB above 0.1% of any substance, preparation or article. Multiply these numbers by your sales volumes and you have your quantities and the knowledge of which chemicals you need to register with a SIEF.

Own label products

For your own label suppliers, this may be an easy one. After all, these amounts should be within your specification/product lifecycle management (PLM) system.

However, if you have doubts around PLM data completeness or accuracy – be it due to a software migration or general lack of engagement - read on…

Branded products

Branded product specifications will most likely not be in your PLM. After all, 99% of the time what’s in their product is their responsibility. However, with REACH, the responsibility is on you as the FOB importer.

The answer to the question of how to collect chemical quantities for branded products (and own brand products without PLM certainty) comes down to:

Are there less than a dozen suppliers?

Yes: Collect using spreadsheets. It’s a bit of a pain but low cost and relatively low effort.

Are there less than 100 suppliers?

Yes: Invite the branded product suppliers into your PLM and ask them to complete the chemical portion of the PLM. Set clear expectations with communications, grow understanding with engaging supporting materials and let them know via online dashboards how they’re performing against expectations.

Are there more than 100 suppliers?

Yes: Expand your risk and impact assessment to include chemical volumes. Provide an option for each product to add what chemicals are present and how many grams per unit.

Handling ‘pretty big’ data

With or without the collection of chemical volumes, you’re going to be creating a pretty complex database with multiple ‘entity’ relationships. I strongly advise that you co-opt a business analyst onto your REACH project team. They’ll help you design the assessment and supporting database so that the data collected is as easy to report on as possible.

I’m personally lucky enough to be surrounded by analysts in my office and I can’t tell you how many days of time and effort they’ve saved me by understanding what I needed to know upfront and designing the database accordingly.

Next steps

With your REACH risk and impact assessment in hand, we now can make some informed decisions on what to do next. And those next steps will be highly dependent on what your assessment tells you. However, here are some tips on which directions to take:

  • What chemicals in quantities over one tonne do you need to register? (if any).
  • Do you need to declare or ‘manage out’ any SVHCs from your supply chain?
  • Remember those ‘grey’ SVHC products? Convert them to ‘black and white’ by requesting your suppliers provide evidence of their composition.
  •  New SVHCs will be added to the list every six months. What’s your plan for understanding if these are in your products?
  • Sales volumes and suppliers will change. What’s your plan for re-assessing your chemical quantities, FOB and SVHC statuses?
  • Are you going to take the responses to this survey on face value? If not, what’s your ongoing surveillance testing program?


Closing words

However you decide to achieve REACH compliance, I hope you found this post valuable. If you find that you don’t have the resource to do it internally or can’t afford the time to follow this post ‘trial and error’ we’d of course be more than happy to help. Either way, good luck in ‘REACHing’ compliance!

Tags: Supplier engagement

David Taylor

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