The case for supply chain transparency (as if we needed one)

So, you want to build a sustainable supply chain for your business? Of course, you do; silly question, really.

As the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study shows, almost two-thirds of consumers now choose, switch to or boycott a brand based on its stand on sustainability issues. That is an increase from the 51% that said the same in 2017. Yes, Millennials are more interested in environmental and social issues, but this new mindset now spans generations, according to the research.

Trust and credibility have become a new currency for brands. Investors are waking up to the fact companies taking their responsibilities seriously will be more profitable in the long run.

And more and more people are keen to understand where the products they know and love come from, and how they are made. Understanding supply chains are increasingly important for a range of stakeholders.

Traceability can be one of the most important tools we have to improve supply chain sustainability. To date, we have supported more than half a million cotton farmers and we continue to realise the benefits of increased traceability. Our work through our organic and REEL programmes started with a ‘bottom-up’ approach, tracing cotton from the farmer back to where it is being sold. This has given us great insight into the challenges being faced by cotton farmers, and also where we can create the most positive impact for them.

Traceability is not a particularly new phenomenon in cotton. Traditional relationships between the various players in the cotton producing process have been in place for generations. Spinners, ginners, and weavers are in constant communication, largely to ensure product quality control.

But brands have not traditionally been a part of this conversation.

Now, there is a real need for greater business insight and for brands to truly understand their supply chain in a way that goes beyond quality or ethics.

We’ve been working with pioneering retail brands that truly ‘get’ it, including Primark, Carrefour, Superdry, C&A, Volcom and Whitbread. They are willing to look harder at their supply chains, rather than being satisfied with reassurances proved by Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers.

By doing so they are becoming part of the conversation with supplier companies and creating new relationships that go beyond the solely transactional interactions that have gone before. It really is quite exciting when all of the players are in a room, including the brands. The new partnerships that are emerging are helping to build trust, credibility, security of supply and long-term sustainability in cotton.

Of course, none of this is easy; if it was, CottonConnect would not exist. Working in emerging markets presents numerous technological, economic and social challenges.

Our TraceBale tool is proving a real success. Collecting and managing supplier data is crucially important in driving traceability. But so is market knowledge and our team continues to work hard in validating the data based on relationships in the field.

Leading brands, such as Primark, have a strong sense of responsibility for what is going on in their supply chains. For them, knowing who their suppliers are is not enough. They want to know how the supply chain works so that they can build stronger relationships that will help to make it work even better, now and in the future.

In the coming weeks as part of this blog series, our team is going to explore how and why we need to go beyond Tier 1 when it comes to tracking suppliers, what transparency looks like for the farmer communities at the heart of the products we know and love, and we will also hear from some of the brands that are taking supply chain transparency to another level – and reaping the benefits.

For more information about the Sustainable Apparel and Textiles Conference, 9th – 10th April 2019, Amsterdam please visit the Innovation Forum’s website using this link.

By Alison Ward, CEO, CottonConnect

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