Ethical Sourcing Guide: 6 Tips to Improve Supply Chain Transparency 

Natural Cotton Tote Bags

Customers are looking to brands to take a stand on social and environmental issues and brands are responding with increased supply chain transparency.  Research shows when brands get it right, customers are happy to pay the extra money. 

The increase in market demand for “better” products is a good thing.  When consumers ask tough questions, it increases accountability – you can either answer their questions, or you can’t. And if you can’t it’s getting more and more awkward for brands.  

Making social and environmental claims in an age of digital natives, you need the documentation to back up your claims or your customers will quickly lose faith.  

Stepping up to the plate on social and environmental issues isn’t easy.  The minute you start to peel back the layers of where, how and by whom products are made you reveal the crux of supply chain transparency.  

Person Sewing

At Fairware, ethical sourcing is the lifeblood of our brand.  Like anyone else making social and environmental claims about our products, we rely on certifications and third-party assessments to help us understand our supply chain. 

Our Supplier Code of Conduct surveys our supplier’s internal efforts and management systems and asking them hard questions has helped us move the dial in the promotional product industry.   

At Fairware, we navigate the world of promotional merchandise supply chains to provide products we stand by and are proud to share.  Looking to start your own deep dive into your supply chain? 

Here are 6 tips to start you down the path. 

ONE: Educate Yourself About Ethical Sourcing 

Learn about International Code of Conducts. Companies that have Code of Conducts in their supply chain base them on International Labour Organization (ILO) standards. These Codes are similar across companies and industries and it’s good to understand the key issues they’re addressing. For more details on Codes of Conduct, check out the FLA (Fair Labor Association). 

TWO: Find Suppliers Who Already have Ethical Sourcing Programs 

Seek out like minded suppliers and brands to purchase from. It’s easier to work with suppliers who already have a commitment to your values than to educate new suppliers about what is important to you.  

THREE: Adopt a Code of Conduct for Suppliers 

Determine which Code of Conduct or standards you want to use to engage your supplier chain. You may want to adopt their industry association Many universities adopt the Fair Labor Association and some companies use the B Corp Assessment Tool or Green America Green Business Certification to guide their efforts.  Don’t reinvent the wheel, look to the highest standards in the industry internationally such as the ILO International workers rights standards.  

FOUR: Start the Conversation with Current Suppliers 

“I don’t know where to start” We hear that from a lot of colleagues and clients when the topic of assessing supply chain comes up. In our experience starting a conversation with supplier or potential suppliers doesn’t have to be a big deal. We’re surprised by what we find out. 

FIVE: Formalize Your Efforts with a Supplier Code of Conduct 

Create a policy or set of procedures for onboarding new suppliers. Writing up a formal policy or set of procedures for your workplace will ensure the commitment lives on and can help with consistency across departments and teams. We often see commitments die off after a passionate advocate leaves the role, so if you care enough to start the process, formalize it. 

SIX: Engage Your Industry for Broader Change 

Seek out peers in your industry or region. Engage them on these issues. Ask marketing, sustainability or procurement staff from local companies or industry leaders what they’re doing. See if you can find templates or examples to start with – it also helps get leadership buy in when you can point to competitor examples. 

Want to learn more? Check out our Sustainability Resources.
Want to connect? Contact us!