I conduct research on socially sustainable supply chains and in August, 2010, I made a presentation on this topic at Harvard Business School during the ISBM/B2B Marketing Retreat.
Corporations of today invest significant efforts in understanding and managing the impact that their supply chains have on the natural environment as they are increasingly conscious of the possible negative repercussions that not doing the right thing can have on their corporate brand and reputation. Relatively speaking less attention has been paid to the social impact on supply chains that the buying corporation could be held accountable for.
To the extent that social aspects of sustainability have been connected to the field of marketing, it has largely been in the context of how to deal with negative news in the form of stories emerging of a company doing harm to communities where they source their products. What I aim to do is to highlight not only the public relations management of negative news but also identify whether there are opportunities that can be reached for were companies to also promote the positive social change that they work towards in their efforts to build socially sustainable supply chains.
One aspect of social sustainability that has been identified is the one of child labor. Stories about child labor being used has hurt the credibility of companies and the public has been made aware of the existence of such problems also in other instances. As a result, executives strive to learn about such vulnerabilities in their supply chains so that they can minimize the risk exposure and avoid such news stories from blowing up in the media and ultimately hurt their brands and reputations. What has been missing, however, are examples of companies doing more than just trying to avoid being caught with a negative story, but that also invests in the development of other efforts to promote the reduction of child labor in the supply chains that they ultimately are responsible for.