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What combination of education, training and technical solutions does it take to compel change through your organization as well as your supply chain?

It is a question that continues to dog manufacturers and retailers big and small as supply chains grow complex and social and environmental challenges multiply. What role should companies play in educating – and engaging – their suppliers? What’s ethical? With Sustainability Reporting becoming a mark of competitive advantage, how can organizations best track their performance?

The upcoming Ethical Sourcing Forum will kickoff its two-day conference next month by putting Coca-Cola, Intel, Bic, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and Intertek on the hot seat to try to answer some of these complex questions.

Ethical_Sourcing_Forum

The panel, led by me, will not only offer best practices but also discuss specific tools that the companies have either developed or collaborated with their nonprofit partners on, to track and examine sustainability progress with their suppliers.

For a preview of what promises to be a compelling session of benchmarking and teasing apart a sensitive topic, I turned to Mathieu Lamolle, a market analyst with the ITC for some insights.

An Ethical Supply Chain

The ITC, a United Nations agency for trade related technical assistance, has one goal: To help businesses become more competitive in global markets, speeding economic development and contributing to sustainable development.

Part of this goal, Mathieu told me, is a “Standards Map web tool for organizations to analyze, map and compare themselves according to an array of 75+ sustainability standards in supply chains.”

“We also want to enable any organization that has its own code of conduct and assessment protocol to benchmark what they are doing against others. They can benchmark their own corporate practices and see how they measure up against other companies and sustainability standards.”

Ranging from small companies, traders and suppliers to retailers, importers and others, this new tool will encourage data sharing for the purpose of internal benchmarking with the ultimate goal being an ethical and efficient supply chain.

While it remains strictly a business-to-business tool for now, Mathieu emphasized that there are plans to eventually roll it out for general consumption and public benchmarking as well.

Benchmarking Sustainability Progress

StandardsWhat’s especially promising about ITC’s new tool is its abject emphasis on sharing for the purpose of benchmarking. The organization’s role as a UN neutral intermediary between public-private partnerships further helps break through the risk-averse behavior that often delays well-meaning initiatives within organizations.

Although, so far the tool has found resonance with participants for the primary purpose of internal tracking and public sharing of information on the Standards Map web tool, Mathieu admitted that the true value of the tool “is going to unfold when we can spread the news globally” and allow people to compare the true progress being made by participating organizations on educating and training their supply chains. “The more people use it the better it is,” he said.

The impact of such a global tool can prove to be significant in an industry that is evolving and constantly juggling multifold standards and regulations. Want to learn more about the Standards Map? Wondering how you can use the tool to track your organization’s sustainability progress?

Join us at the Ethical Sourcing Forum for a lively discussion that will focus not only on available tools, but also how to best manage metrics, challenges of a global supply chain and whether any of the present panelists’ tools can be customized to work in your industry.

Originally written for and published on CSRwire’s Commentary sectionTalkback on February 22, 2012.

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