How to avert disasters through responsible sourcing

Editor's note: This article originally appeared at BSR Insight as part of a series on the recent garment factory collapse in Bangladesh.

It’s difficult to do, but let’s take a step back from the recent industrial disasters in Bangladesh and talk about what businesses can do differently in their own approaches to buying and sourcing. A business can make a tremendous impact through decisions about how it procures goods, where it sources from and the terms of its relationships with its suppliers.

Despite 20 years of thinking, action and collaboration, it is clear that sustainability is still not integrated into these decisions. Certainly, Rana Plaza has been a wakeup call for the apparel sector, but this lesson is not limited to that industry.

We could spend more time analyzing what has gone wrong and why, but I suggest that we already understand the issues; it’s time to put our efforts into taking the actions we know will make a difference.

Let’s use our muscles: Get tough on the fundamentals

We need tough sustainable purchasing policies (not only supplier codes) that will make it nearly impossible for buyers to make unsustainable purchasing decisions. Purchasing sustainably must be the buyer’s job, without exception.

This is happening in certain companies: Marks and Spencer does a good job integrating sustainability requirements into core buying responsibilities through its balanced scorecard (part of its Plan A commitments), and IKEA makes it very difficult for their buyers to source unsustainably through its Sustainable Product Scorecard, which the company first announced in its 2011 sustainability report.

More companies need to emulate these examples and put uncompromising policies and responsibilities into practice.

Image credit: CC license by Greenpeace India/Flickr

Next page: 3 steps to using data smarter