Friday, 17 August 2012

Lessons from Ecuador

What a complete and utter mess the Julian Assange extradition has got itself into. Yet I think there are lessons which we can apply to procurement.  But before we consider whether or not procurement can learn something from this, let's have a bit of context.

Julian Assange founded Wikileaks and appears to take pride in his orchestrating the publication of what are considered to be inflammatory state secrets. Whether or not that is a crime or a cause for adulation is debatable. To add to that inditement though there are allegations that Assange committed sex crimes in Sweden; those are serious allegations and, if he is guilty, his victims require justice. I can't even remember how Assage ended up in the UK but it predates the Borders Agency debacles.

The UK judicial process deemed that Assange should be extradited to Sweden to assist Wallander's mates with their enquiries. Assange, with his own interpretation of transparency and justice, wasn't just as keen on transparency as we would at first thought. He went to ground claiming this was all an American conspiracy to get him within the reach of the Stars and Stripes where justice would evade him.  The Celebrity Big Brother house wasn't considered a safe haven so he took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy.  (Let's not forget that while most could reliably make a stab at locating Sweden on a map, I think it would be an interesting challenge for those who have just received 'A' Level Geography to locate Ecuador on a map.) Assange lost his appeal against extradition to Sweden and now there's a stand off.  One man and one generally unknown country standing in the way of UK, Swedish and US aspirations.  This isn't David and Goliath, this is the equivalent of two hobbits against a gang of Goliath and his buddies tooled up with an arsenal.

So the now grown up Billy Hague dusted down and donned his baseball cap, did a google search and established that there's a generally unknown law which gives Team GB the right to remove the Ecuador competitor's diplomatic status.  The implied threat to the hobbits of a 4am knock on the internal fire-doors from a Combined SAS and SEALs unit was assumed to be enough for Rafael Cornea, the Ecuadorian President, to kick ol' Julian out the door onto the streets of Knightsbridge.  Best laid plans ...

Now let's weigh up some of the bargaining power. If the UK stand at the door, threatening to huff and puff and blow the Ecuador Embassy house down unless they hand over Assange, the hobbits can just sit it out. They don't have to do anything at all and can just order food in - it's a good old siege without the shortage of supplies.  If they respond and hand over Assange they lose all international street cred - wikileaks may even have a new target  and victim.  In another few years the Ecuadorean Tourist Board will have to get back to explaining there's no 'q' in Ecuador. So it seems to me Ecuador have all to gain by staying put and even just saying nothing.

If Assage walks out the door, draped in the flag of Ecuador with a pair of Nike's he may gain sympathy from a Swedish Jury and will certainly have distracted the media and public away from the real issue of whether he is a sex criminal.  If he stays, how long does he stay before his hosts start to get fed up with his table talk and attempts at making discrete notes on napkins, and put him on the naughty step?  Could he have a future in Ecuador and request asylum?  Well if he does he still has to get out of Knightsbridge and get past the Borders Agency (well ...). 

If the UK actually storm the building will they not have broken the international law relating to Embassy's and committed an act of aggression against a sovereign state. The international kudos gained through the Jubilee and Olympian feats will be over-shadowed, we will go into the Autumn with a diplomatic mess. We will be one of the UN feral children as opposed to eminence grise.  We will also have lost any moral high ground over the next few hundred years if any other country tries the same stunt.  We have made a threat and carrying out the threat only means we lose.  Why not just leave him in the Ecuador embassy until they buy his ticket to Sweden?

So what's the procurement lesson?

  1. Rather than form partnerships with just the big guys, think of the SCM implications and also don't forget the long-term potential benefits of partnering with the hobbits.
  2. Rather than make threats, think through how the threatened may react.
  3. Remember, while Ecuador is not an island, neither is any supplier, they will have other's who watch from the sidelines and decide on whether or not they want to work with you in the long-term.
What's clear is that Assage is not a free man by any stretch of the imagination but the Team GB appear to have switched the tables and appear to be a hostage to the weaker players.

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