Upholding our standards in all circumstances
Holding suppliers to our high standards can be challenging – both for them and for us – but it is essential if we are to live up to our values. Sometimes an audit finds breaches of our Partnering with Suppliers Policy – and we have to act. We always try to work with our suppliers to bring them up to our standards, but if they can’t or won’t, then we have to end the relationship.
In 2009, our Africa procurement team commissioned several independent ethical audits of Nigerian suppliers who had been classified as ‘highest risk’ following their Sedex self-assessments.
The audit of one of our label producers found particularly concerning instances of bad practice in the company, including compulsory and unpaid overtime, lack of workers’ representation and some serious health and safety issues. All these practices contravened the Policy.
We met with the supplier and using the audit report, developed a corrective action plan to address the issues. Our aim was to work with them to help make necessary improvements, which could then be assessed through a follow-up audit. This included using our health and safety experts to advise them on essential improvements in the factory and meetings with our human resources team to help them understand how a transition to three-shift working would actually improve productivity, as well as reducing the overtime. However, the company’s management were slow in addressing the issues and giving us any of the assurances we needed. As a result, we progressively moved the business to other suppliers.
In 2011, to confirm the position, we requested, a follow-up independent audit. This showed that, while many issues had been addressed and improvements made, there were still major areas of non-compliance, especially in excessive compulsory overtime, so at that point we finally terminated their contract with us.
With all our suppliers we do our best to help them comply with our standards. But ultimately our responsibilities are to all our stakeholders, and it’s only by upholding our standards in all circumstances that we can fulfil those responsibilities properly.