In a recent post over on Spend Matters UK, Andrew Cox asked whether aggressive buyers are stupid or guilty of segmentation errors. In this post, the author chimed into the debate over supplier bullying, initiated by Peter Smith over the continued extension of unreasonable payment terms by 2 Sisters and Sainsbury’s, continuing the unsavoury Tesco tradition. According to Mr. Cox, food companies should not be condemned as ‘unethical’ just for extending payment terms as ethical standards are a contested concept.
While I agree that what is unethical for some is just fine for others, as per the example provided in the post, one would think that there are some positions that just about everyone with a conscious could agree upon, just like the vast majority of people in modern society believe that murder is wrong. In the debate, Peter Smith is condemning the act of a supplier unnecessarily extending payment times to the point where a company could risk bankruptcy. I would hope that this would be a situation that most people could agree is simply not ethical.
But this is not the only time when ethics should be taken into account. Ethics should also be taken into account when choosing a supplier. When choosing a supplier, fair labour standards should be considered. Now, while what is fair is always a subject of debate, it should not be a subject of debate that a fair supplier
- follows all health, safety, and minimum wage standards of the country or countries they operate in
- if there are no such standards, the supplier does not unnecessarily expose its workers to risk, does not maintain conditions that threaten its workers’ health, and/or does not pay its workers less than a living wage in the country that is being sourced from (as defined by the World Economic Forum, etc.)
- does not unnecessarily harm the environment
And while it might be difficult if there are no standards to determine that conditions are sufficiently healthy or safe, that the wages paid are suitable, or that the supply is not unnecessarily harming the environment, there are points when it becomes obvious. Just like delaying supplier payments 180 days or more is ridiculous, so is choosing a supplier that houses its workers in buildings that should be condemned (which are doomed to collapse like Rana Plaza), that allows workers into a mine without adequate safety gear, that uses wide-spread clear-cutting that will clearly harm the local environment, or that pays its workers so little that they can’t afford to keep a roof over their head and eat. If we can’t agree that if the majority of the population, and in particular, the majority of the population that defines our customer base, would consider the supplier and its practices unethical that we should too, then do we even deserve to call ourselves professionals? Every professional organization worth it’s salt has a code of conduct, and most of these have an ethics clause that say we will adhere to the ethics of the industry we work in and the society we live in. If the majority of society condemns an action or a state of affairs, and, in the country we operate or sell in has laws that condemn an action or a state of affairs, how can we claim there is any debate whatsoever from an ethical perspective in regards to a supplier that takes that action or maintains that state of affairs?