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Using Data and Technology to Build Inclusive Supply Chains
by Akhil | Mar 30, 2021 | Data & transparency
While we’ve made strides analyzing sustainable supply chains, there are still plenty aspects of impact assessments and supply chain transparency that need innovation and development. As part of our 3-part Impact of Impact Assessments webinar series, we hosted Sam Hartsock of Remake, Flora Davidson of SupplyCompass and Antoine Heuty of Ulula. The session was moderated by our very own, Akhil Sivanandan.
Each of these organizations specializes in targeting often-overlooked aspects of supply chains, from workers to brands’ and suppliers’ relationships, we discussed how we can use technology to supply chains more inclusive by giving each stakeholder a seat at the table.
The human and social aspect of a supply chain
Our current LCA methodology analyzes each phase of production for environmental impacts but it doesn’t take into consideration the human aspect of it. Antoine, the founder of Ulula, wanted to focus on “the humans behind the products” as Ulula works to ensure that human rights are maintained along supply chains. Ulula creates a dialogue directly with workers about what their conditions are and how they are being treated, among other criteria. Antoine believes that “social and environmental impacts are very interconnected,” so we cannot only assess one of them.
Remake is well known for their PayUp campaign launched during the pandemic, as it came to light that workers were not being paid for orders that brands submitted. With the onset of a global economic shutdown, Remake sought to amplify workers voices and leverage social influence to get brands to honor the finanicial commitments of their orders. Sam, the Director of Education, believes we “have over anchored ourselves in environmental sustainability and need to move over to another urgent cause.”
The overlooked stakeholders
Suppliers are the literal crux of a supply chain yet there are not many solutions that involve them in the LCA process and help regulate and protect them from malpractice. Flora, the co-Founder and Head of Product at SupplyCompass, believes “a sustainable product is only as sustainable as the system it exists in.” If brands don’t maintain appropriate relationships with suppliers, then the supply chain is not as sustainable as it may be perceived to be. As a solution, SupplyCompass seeks to involve suppliers and regulate brands buying practices.
Another often marginalized stakeholder are the workers, specifically women workers. “85% of the 75 million people who work along a fashion supply chain are women. And they are not in leadership or decision-making positions,” Sam shared as we discussed how women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. “Workers need to be part of the change and conversation because they know best what matters to them, and what their realities are,” Antonie added as part of the solution.
Consumers, the last link in the chain, influence brands’ actions through their purchasing decisions and certainly need to be involved in the conversation. The panelists agreed that the narrative often puts an unfair burden on consumers to change the way that brands act. In reality, “we can only expect consumers to take responsibility for their product’s impact after the purchase. Consumers can decide a product’s end of life, how often they shop and where they shop from,” Flora explained. Consumers need to feel like they have an impact and realize that how they use a product has an impact too.
Vehicles for change:
Brands have leveraged technology to select innovative sustainable fibres, reach more consumers and showcase their impact assessments but how can we involve the rest of the stakeholders? “There was so much technology for brands but there was a lack of innovation for workers, suppliers and factories,” Flora explained as the logic for designing SupplyCompass as a “two-sided tool to create a system of accountability.”
When it comes to consumers, “they aren’t going to find sustainability information on their own. Brands need leverage technology to share this data at every stage of a consumers journey,” Akhil shared, as one of the advantages of using Green Story. Technology can help each stakeholder along the supply chain, but it cannot exist in silos. We need to “tap into the collective power of these organizations; technology cannot connect each stakeholder on its own,” Antoine shared his perspective on technology.
Data is a powerful tool that can help inform decision making, highlight trends and tell stories. Flora shared her vision for SupplyCompass’s future whereby supply chain’s sustainability data is “calculated immediately as you are working on the platform. The information is given to you so you can make an educated decision.” She also highlighted the importance of the democratization of data within an organization. If sustainability is one of a brands’ core missions, then the data that makes it sustainable should be shared with the entire organization, not just select departments.
Sam believes in the power of “turning data into storytelling to galvanize a movement. Only looking at the numbers can make you lose the human element that is so characteristic of the social impacts along a supply chain.” As impact assessment data becomes more accessible, brands and organizations should focus on telling relevant and inspiring stories through data to influence consumer behavior. “Data and technology are great but at the end of the day, the way you govern the technology is what really matters. If the data isn’t the basis of social dialogue, then your impact will be limited,” Antoine pointed out.
The missing piece of the puzzle in the sustainable fashion industry is standardized legislation and mandatory supply chain analysis. “LCAs are mostly done and reported voluntarily,” Sam noted, but we need to use data to influence legislation and make impact assessments mandatory. Flora pointed out that “for us to make progress quickly there needs to be more legislative change to make supply chain data expected. But for it to become expected, gathering this data needs to be easy, fast and accessible.”
“We are seeing a massive shift in regulation right now. Germany and Netherlands have made very serious legislative commitments to mandatory human rights due diligence on the social side,” Antoine noted. We are moving away from the optional and voluntary approaches and towards the mandatory regulation we’re looking for – we’re headed in the right direction.
The progress we can make individually is limited, so with the same goals of sustainability, equality and mutual respect, there is no doubt that collective power will incite real change.
Sam focuses on the education and leadership development of Remake’s community, training Ambassadors to be advocates for ethical, sustainable fashion in their local communities. Sam is also the co-founder of qb. consulting, a women-owned and led ESG consultancy, helping companies reduce their environmental impact.
Co-Founder and Head of Product, SupplyCompass
Their platform enables brands and their network of manufacturers to manage product development, sourcing, sampling, and orders – together in one single platform. Flora remains passionate about harnessing the power of technology to encourage better collaboration, drive efficiency and make sustainable production accessible.
Founder and CEO, Ulula
Ulula is a software and analytics platform creating transparent and responsible supply chains. He previously held senior positions at the International Resource Governance Institute and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). He is the co-author of various publications on transparency, mobile technology, natural resource governance and supply chains.
Co-Founder, Green Story
Akhil has over 13 years of experience in the sustainability space, and is the co-founder of Green Story. He has been featured in major publications such as the New York Times. Green Story has worked with over 80 brands in 15 countries to measure and showcase their impact to over 10 million consumers. Green Story’s vision is to get every consumer to ask “What’s my Impact?”
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