supply chains

Traceability is Key to Protecting Human Rights in Supply Chains

Across the globe, a transformative wave is reshaping the landscape of international commerce. Nations and economic blocs worldwide are instituting a broad array of supply chain due diligence laws aimed at eradicating forced labor and safeguarding human rights. These regulations mark the most concerted global push ever for more ethical supply chains, signaling an era where accountability extends beyond borders and compelling businesses to adapt swiftly.

by Eric Linxwiler

From the European Union’s forthcoming Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD), which mandates rigorous monitoring and rectification of human rights and environmental risks, to the United States’ Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, targeting goods linked to human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, a global consensus is emerging. Other legislations such as Germany’s new Supply Chain Act (LkSG) and Canada’s new forced labor bill require large companies operating in the country to establish preventative measures to eliminate child labor, poor working conditions, and environmental abuses at all levels of their supply chain. 

As these laws take effect, the call for brands and retailers to fortify their supply chains with robust traceability solutions has never been more urgent. These regulations have made it abundantly clear that a superficial understanding of an enterprise’s supply chain is no longer sufficient. Companies are now expected to have a comprehensive and documented grasp of their entire supply chain, from top to bottom, and that requires a true commitment to traceability. 

Brands and retailers must remember that this push isn’t solely driven by regulatory pressures. It’s also a response to changing consumer behaviors. Today’s consumers are increasingly aware of the social and environmental footprint of their purchases, with 75% of U.S. consumers now saying they’re concerned about the environmental impact of products they buy. Brands that can provide transparency and ethical assurances in their supply chains can build stronger connections with these customers, enhancing brand loyalty, and carving out a competitive edge in a crowded market. 

Compliance Is Impossible Without Deep Visibility 

To comply with these forceful new supply chain laws, brands and retailers must implement comprehensive due diligence processes to ensure thorough risk assessments, effective mitigation measures, and robust monitoring systems. Businesses must scrutinize every tier of their supply chain, from raw material sourcing to final product delivery, ensuring that each segment adheres to stringent human rights and environmental standards. This requires a shift from traditional supply chain practices to a more transparent, multi-tier approach. Companies will need to invest in technologies and platforms that offer real-time visibility and traceability across their entire supply chain, enabling them to quickly identify and address any areas of concern. 

In the near future, this traceability will need to extend to the component level for every item on the bill of materials at all tiers, underscoring the necessity for advanced digital platforms to manage these intricate processes. Such platforms offer more than traditional record-keeping; they enable real-time visibility and documentation, which is critical for adhering to rigorous standards set by laws like the CSDDD. 

Increasingly, AI is simplifying compliance and sustainability processes. The right multi-enterprise supply chain platform will boast AI-powered traceability tools and provide detailed insights from the procurement of raw materials to the distribution of finished goods, creating the documentation and assurances that are key to complying with global due diligence laws. The right platform’s advanced AI intelligently reviews all documentation to chart the chain of custody for each order, cross-checking vendors against external ESG databases to ensure their compliance, while dashboards categorize purchase orders based on risk levels, offering granular insights into the country of origin, entities involved, and various supply chain tiers. This technology is critical for identifying and mitigating potential risks in the supply chain, enabling companies to proactively address issues before they escalate into larger regulatory or reputational problems. 

Investing in advanced traceability solutions is a strategic necessity, pivotal not only for adhering to new regulations but also for defining a brand’s values in a market that increasingly prizes transparency and ethical practices. The companies that respond proactively to this call will be the ones leading the charge in the future of sustainable business, while gaining a competitive advantage by securing the trust of their consumers. The message for brands and retailers is clear: The time to ensure the ethical integrity of your supply chains is now. 

Eric Linxwiler is Senior Vice President of TradeBeyond. He has over 30 years of experience in enterprise software and cloud-based platform companies with a specialty in supply chain optimization and workflow management. Contact him at [email protected].

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

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