Sunday, 6 October 2013

Time to take a stand on UK slavery in supply chain management

This weeks cover story of the Sunday Times Magazine heaps more shame on retail supply chain management and the suggestion that UK supermarkets are best of bred. 

I've frequently discussed the issues of supply chain management and even advocated that we need 'undercover supply chain managers'. Horsemeat and pork of poor providence, foreign factories with unacceptable health and safety, and poor working conditions - we've discussed them all even though the Public Administration Select Committee were led to believe retail procurement is an exemplar.  

But there has to be something seriously wrong when the Sunday Times Magazine appears able to expose appalling supply chain behaviour of UK supermarkets. What we learn on pages 22-27 of the Magazine and also in the main paper is that some UK supermarkets pursuit of 'value' means slave workers, on 17-hour days, suffering beatings and sexual abuse, living in squalor, for £2.80 per day. That's a very perverse view of responsible procurement. A very perverse view of supply chain management. A very strange view of contract management. Yet these modern day slaves are not in some far flung outpost, they are working in the UK and part of the supply chains to us.

The Home Secretary plans to introduce an anti-slavery bill and Chris Byrant MP, the shadow immigration minister hopes to introduce a Transparency in Supply Chains bill. The Sunday Times has announced it is fronting a Britain's Secret Slaves campaign. The supermarkets can be expected to hold up their hands and tell us through a spate of full-page advertisements it will be address the issues after once again being exposed for poor supply chain management - but clearly the claims of learning the lessons of the past ring hollow now. 

Yet there is one voice which seems silent on these issues, CIPS. We love the glory which comes from the Purchasing Manager's Index being regularly being cited as an economic indicator - but where is CIPS actually taking a stand on retail supply chain management?  If CIPS don't take hold of this very quickly the whole profession risks being discredited.

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