By Pam Styles – G&A Institute Fellow
The current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed countless concerns, including (global) supply chain management issues near the top of the list.
Public and private-sector professionals and officials are soon to be attempting to get economies back up and running. Following Herculean and likely imperfect restart efforts, it will be important to debrief supply chain systemic failures and risks that have been exposed during the pandemic crisis.
ESG/Sustainability practitioners may be able to offer unique vantage to assist the debrief in collaboration with company supply chain experts and management teams.
Well-established ESG tracking practices and voluntary reporting frameworks, such as GRI (est. 1997) and CDP (est. 2000), could possibly be used to expand internal information sharing and analysis to augment internal supply chain risk assessments, monitoring and oversight capabilities.
ESG reporting frameworks are not necessarily a perfect fit or infallible, however they could potentially provide existing information platforms from which to add and/or improve accessible reporting, analysis and assessment, and executive leadership observation in a multitude of strategic (multi) sourcing risk assessments and repositioning exercises to come.
As we all try to learn and make important changes going forward, important questions to ask:
What do you know about your company’s suppliers’ supply chain, their suppliers, and so on?
The Business Continuity Institute, Zurich Insurance Company and others have been raising the red flag for years that too many companies do not have full visibility of their supply chain, nor the ability to fully track components through the full vertical supply chain.
Just a few recent examples of how reality has suddenly struck some pharmaceutical, consumer products and electronics companies (the list of other sector impacts can go on):
- U.S. Pharmaceutical supply chain dependencies on China were well known at high levels prior to COVID-19, but effectively nothing was done about it and consumers were unaware of the looming risk.
- Consumer Products giant Procter & Gamble indicated 17,600 products could be affected by Coronavirus in China.
- Apple is dealing with pandemic-driven supply chain and sourcing woes.
Back in 2008 PwC published a fascinating paper about German companies supply chain sourcing practices in China, in which it suggested companies take a closer look at their KPI’s.
Who should raise warning flags and influence corrective supply chain action?
Supply chains can be very complicated with many layers or tiers, all the way down to original raw materials source. Aggregate supply chain geographic risk management is surely challenging.
As a specialist at well-known Gartner Supply Chain observed, “COVID-19 should be a wake-up call to boards of directors, CEOs and supply chain leaders that being well prepared for disruptions, regardless of their cause, is not an optional extra. It is a business necessity.”
Companies are learning painful lessons in the shortcomings of legal boilerplate risk disclaimer language in situations like today’s. These lessons should compel executive leadership and Boards to step-up their efforts and investment in overseeing supply chain strategy and active risk management mitigation.
Does your company regularly review and remediate identifiable aggregate risks across the company’s supply chain and associated third-party relationships?
As recently pointed out in a COVID-19 related article by another G&A Institute Fellow, Daniel Goelzer, “Internal auditors are missing key risks.” He went on to observe,
“The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) has released its annual survey of Chief Audit Executives. The 2020 North American Pulse of Internal Audit “reveals serious gaps in internal audit’s coverage, with audit plans deficient in key risk areas.”
“For example, the IAA found that almost one-third of respondents did not include cybersecurity/information technology in their audit plans. In addition, more than half did not include governance/culture or third-party relationships, and 90 percent did not include sustainability.”
Postulating that the professional supply chain management tools kit is loaded with granularity to boggle the mind, it is fair to suggest the possibility that the many different tools may inadvertently complicate aggregate risk assessments.
Thus, we should think about whether there might be an opportunity for ESG/Sustainability professionals to constructively share their inherently top-down vantage and tools kit to assist companies with additional angles for risk assessment and oversight.
Brainstorming how the growing mainstream ESG/Sustainability field can help:
One gets a strong sense that professional supply chain experts across the board are now committed to re-engineer their collective body of knowledge and management resources to truly understand–down to the last pharmaceutical raw ingredient source, medical gear and equipment–the geographic and geo-political risks of their companies’ product vertical manufacturing and supplies.
First, let’s acknowledge that professional supply chain experts have a lot of knowledge, skills and complex management tools at their disposal that those outside their discipline know little about.
Second, kudos to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their brilliance and ingenuity. Their recent reminder to all of us that, when a problem is large and complex and a fast solution is needed, it’s worth remembering the “keep it simple” concept.
Their challenge: emergency need to rapidly expand hospital bed and critical care capacity in multiple locations across the country.
Their solution: work with the infrastructure already there – large convention centers, empty hotels, and the like – and quickly retrofit them to meet the hopefully short-term surge capacity needs.
So now let’s apply the “keep it simple” concept, to think about what infrastructure we already have that can be efficiently and effectively adapted to immediate re-purpose, constructive to supply chain risk management.
Pre-dating the world’s awareness of the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) stated in an article published November 15, 2019, that it “recognizes that joining the dots between corporate reporting and the practical changes needed to promote transparent supply chains can be challenging.”
In that same article, GRI announced its new two-year business leadership forum to help businesses work through challenges to bridge the gap between supply chain management and reporting. Your company may already use or be familiar with the GRI reporting framework.
Specific to supply chain, you might take another look at three GRI KPI sub-series: 204 – Procurement Practices, 308 – Supplier Environmental Assessment, and 414 – Supplier Social Assessment.
GRI is the oldest and most widely recognized voluntary ESG/Sustainability reporting framework and provides a wide range of supply chain related leadership interaction. It has alliances and synergies with the ISO certification standards and CDP, among other organizations.
Hence, GRI could be a robust resource to turn to for facilitating internal supply chain risk discussion, brainstorming and improvement.
CDP, originally known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, has grown beyond carbon to include a host of other key sustainability topics including supply chain. Several germane excerpts from the CDP Supply Chain Report 2018-2019:
- Companies’ supply chains create, on average, 5.5 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as their own operations. (This hints at the veritable iceberg of suppliers beyond the companies’ direct control.)
- Having a single, common disclosure platform is also proving to be beneficial. Amongst program members, 63% are currently using, or considering using, data from CDP disclosures to influence whether to contract with suppliers or not.
- Managing supply chain risks, impacts, and capturing opportunities for sustainable value creation is complex. However, the fundamental steps are common across all organizations: understanding, planning and implementing. Learning from outcomes is essential in order to deepen and broaden the value of a Supply Chain strategy.
- This year a record number of companies submitted disclosures on climate change. CDP supply chain members made requests to 11,692 suppliers, with 5,545 responses received from businesses headquartered across 90 different countries. This is a 14% increase on the 4,858 responses received in 2017.
Taking inspiration from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, a serious question to ask is whether either or both the existing GRI and CDP reporting and data analysis infrastructures could be used (1) ingeniously for a foundation from which to build or expand distance and country concentration inputs to provide additional foundation for sourcing risk analysis and oversight capabilities for companies, as well as (2) to facilitate improved global commerce and public stakeholders supply chain risk awareness?
To ESG/Sustainability practitioners:
Your reporting frameworks, databases and analytical tools may be well-positioned for collaborative solutions to help companies identify and address deep-tier supply-chain risks — both immediate (public health/safety) and longer-term (climate change) — that can and should now rise to a higher level of scrutiny.
When it comes to Sustainability – climate change is important, but supply chain is urgent.
Pamela Styles – Fellow G&A Institute – is principal of Next Level Investor Relations LLC, a strategic consultancy with dual Investor Relations and ESG / Sustainability specialties.