Sedex 2018 review - Moving beyond compliance: Trust, transparency and the technology to achieve it

I attended the 2018 Sedex conference on the 13-14 March which was focused on Defining ‘Beyond Compliance’ in responsible sourcing. It was a valuable learning experience with key note speakers from various organisations such as Emerging Leaders, NSF International, M&S, Walmart and many more. 

Of all the presentations, breakout sessions and debates, a key point kept being raised: transparency through supply chains. Regardless of the scale of the supply chain itself, a huge onus was placed on having transparency in order to instil trust between suppliers and retailers, but most importantly trust for consumers; as consumers are being shrewder when it comes to where their products come from, how they are produced and if it’s done in an ethical fashion.

Tom Smith from Walmart gave a very interesting talk on this and – “We want people to like what they see when looking at their supply chain… It’s about instilling trust in an institution.”

With the launch of SmartLabel in the US, and many national brands signing up to the scheme, there’s certainly an increasing drive stateside for retailers to give consumers access to more detailed information about own brand products. It will be interesting to see if the UK follows suit with a similar programme.

This key takeaway from the Walmart session resonated with me: “In order to win in retail, customer trust is key.” It seems so obvious once stated and the fact that it’s becoming a more common train of thought is encouraging for consumers and retailers alike.

Are audits still fit for purpose?

Another theme which appeared throughout the two days was regarding audits and how it has become apparent they are no longer meeting the necessary requirements. As the theme of the whole conference centred around moving beyond compliance, the fact that current compliance approaches are not working was frequently discussed; and how some certification schemes leave out the most vulnerable people, which can cause pressure to hide bad practices amongst other things.

The good news is, businesses are becoming better informed and there is opportunity to dig deeper and find root causes of the problems and involve workers in finding solutions. The “audit” system is being reviewed to try and move away from the “pass/fail” mentality and rather instil continuous improvement throughout the supply chain. This is putting the onus back on workers and encouraging them to improve throughout the year- rather than the traditional audit which is simply a snap shot in time. In essence, moving away from auditing and more towards management.

Power to the workers

Continuous improvement was a term used frequently throughout the conference and employee empowerment was a common theme. It became clear that organisations need to begin moving away from just managing risk to tracking impact and continuously improve practices within their organisations through worker empowerment.

Finally, technology innovation was one of the breakout sessions I attended and while no new technologies were covered, what was discussed was the ease of connecting all the different technologies available and putting them to use together.

Blockchain for grocery transparency

One technology that grabbed my interest was Block Chaining. Basically, a blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Alberto Sartori from DNV-GL gave an example regarding some wine retailers - in short, a bottle of wine is produced with a barcode which when scanned allows the retailer and consumers to see the whole lifecycle of the product, from when the grape was picked right through to it being delivered to store.

The system also allows digitalisation of all certificates and integrates findings from traditional audits and other systems into one single set of data. The system can then collect and analyse the data collected to ensure the product meets all standards but also ethical trading issues (such as quality, traceability and social conditions). This is a very high-level explanation of this particular system, but in essence, in order to grow as an organisation collaboration between technology and organisations is key to ensure trading standards are continuously met.

There was so much more that was covered over the two-day conference, but from my perspective, working as an engagement consultant with S4RB, these were the three key areas which really seemed to sum up for me what the conference was trying to achieve in defining beyond compliance.

Further reading: Finance and product traceability - a marriage made in blockchain?

Blockchain will revolutionise brand protection in the food industry 

Tags: Consumer trust

Josie Burt

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