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ASCM Insights

Prioritizing Ethical Business Practices in Times of Crisis

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This past week, we celebrated Earth Day’s 50th anniversary — and a very poignant one, as pollution levels plummet, waterways run clear, and wild animals reclaim parks and neighborhoods. The lockdowns triggered by COVID-19 have led to significantly reduced travel and shuttered industries, which — although at a tragic humanitarian cost — is nonetheless having a very positive effect on the planet. 

These short-term gains are encouraging, but there is still a serious risk that the outbreak itself and the desire for rapid economic recovery will back-burner environmental concerns. “Climate talks have already been delayed and new policy initiatives postponed,” write Leslie Hook and Aleksandra Wisniewska for the Financial Times. “The convention center that was set to host the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow in November has been converted into a hospital for coronavirus patients. Governments and world leaders have attention for only one crisis right now.”

Still, many business leaders believe that the road to recovery offers a valuable opportunity to prioritize ethical practices. “The dawn of a new era of community and personal responsibility is upon us,” says Vanessa Barboni Hallik in Vogue. “As we take steps to recover and rebuild, we have an opportunity and obligation far greater than applying bandages to a flawed system.”

She cites recent headlines about canceled orders threatening impoverished garment workers in Bangladesh, at least one million of whom are estimated to have been fired or furloughed with no savings. Although the fashion industry has seen rising consumer consciousness and a greater appreciation for global citizenship, COVID-19 is underscoring the profound inequities that still exist in social and economic systems. Indeed, there is an irrefutable link between poverty and sustainability issues, with fashion being second only to technology for perpetuating modern slavery throughout its supply chains.

“The industry and our individual relationship with fashion has to change,” Hallik says. “If anything positive emerges from this crisis, it could be a timely reminder of our responsibility to each other and our planet, including, and perhaps foremost, those whom we touch with our everyday decisions and rarely meet.”

Forward-looking action

ASCM is proud to be joining forces with sustainability thought leader GreenBiz in order to explore and highlight the essential link between sustainability and supply chain. We will offer our expertise to advance the organization’s supply chain offerings while collaborating to create valuable content, events and networking opportunities.

In a recent GreenBiz article, author Kevin Moss urges supply chain professionals to really think about how we want to come out the other end of this outbreak. “The lens through which we are forced to take urgent action right now is the one business leaders can use to ensure the rush to resolve one emergency doesn’t accelerate the onset of another,” he writes. “Let this be the beginning, not the peak, of a corporate transformation journey.”

Moss says there are three ways to achieve this transformation:

  1. Change business models to reflect what matters. Switch from selling more stuff to more people to providing services, reselling previously owned products and creating new kinds of jobs. “If ever there was a time to double down on the journey from a linear to a circular economy, it is now,” he says.
  2. Emphasize social justice. The most vulnerable suffer disproportionately at times of crisis. By addressing inequality in their business models, companies demonstrate their commitment to health, safety and prosperity.
  3. Invest in supply chains. Prioritize mapping value chains and assessing environmental risk. Having comprehensive and accurate data and engaging global suppliers will be essential.

Watch for details on our collaboration with GreenBiz in the coming weeks. And for more on supply chain’s critical role to play as we work toward recovery, be sure to visit our LinkedIn and YouTube channels on Tuesday to see SCM This Week.

About the Author

Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE CEO, ASCM

Abe Eshkenazi is chief executive officer at ASCM, the largest nonprofit association for supply chain and the global leader in supply chain organizational transformation and innovation. Prior to this, he was the managing director for the Operations Consulting Group of American Express Tax and Business Services. His leadership roles have included project management, business process redesign, and individual and organizational alignment. Eshkenazi may be contacted through editorial@ascm.org.

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