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supply chain reporting

Navigating supply chain sustainability reporting

Sustainability reporting is not an end in itself; it serves as a tool to uncover the drivers of sustainability, manage associated risks, and seize opportunities for positive impact. However, achieving these objectives requires a deep level of granularity in the data collected, particularly when it comes to assessing the complexities of the supply chain. 

The supply chain, as the backbone of any business operation, holds a trove of data that, when analyzed and strategically leveraged, can unveil significant benefits and insights. From the extraction of raw materials to production processes and transportation, nearly every activity within the supply chain impacts the environment, society, and the economy. Therefore, reporting solely on activities within a company’s own four walls is insufficient to achieve genuine sustainability. 

Consider the example of a clothing retailer committed to using organic cotton and sustainable manufacturing practices. While these efforts positively influence its environmental footprint, the retailer’s overall sustainability goals could be undermined if the transportation of its goods involves long-distance shipping routes with high emissions or human rights violations in its overseas manufacturing plant. True sustainability entails considering the holistic impact of a company’s activities beyond its immediate operations. 

Related: Supply chain visibility and transparency

Incorporating supply chain reporting into sustainability disclosures entails examining a range of factors. Supplier engagement, for instance, is an important aspect of reporting, involving disclosure of efforts to engage suppliers in sustainability initiatives, such as supplier training programs, collaboration on sustainability goals, and supplier performance assessments based on sustainability criteria. 

Supply chain transparency is another vital aspect of disclosure within sustainability reporting. It involves revealing essential information about the company’s supply chain structure, including the identification of key suppliers, subcontractors, and geographical locations. Additionally, it encompasses efforts to enhance transparency and traceability throughout the entire supply chain. However, it is important to recognize that there may be instances where companies are permitted to omit certain confidential information, especially if disclosing it could potentially impact their competitive advantage. While this allowance exists to protect proprietary information, it’s equally crucial for consumers and stakeholders to have a comprehensive understanding of the company’s operations. Balancing the need for transparency with the protection of confidential information is a delicate task. Companies must strive to disclose as much relevant information as possible while also safeguarding sensitive data. This ensures that stakeholders can make informed decisions about the company’s practices and impacts, fostering trust and accountability in the process. 

Also read: The impact of sustainable supply chains on African economies

Reporting on the environmental impacts associated with supply chain activities, such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, water usage, waste generation, and deforestation, is crucial for providing stakeholders with a comprehensive view of the company’s environmental performance. However, gathering and analyzing such data can be complex and challenging. Technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), plays a vital role in streamlining data collection and management processes. Systems like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and sensors automate data collection, while blockchain technology enhances transparency and traceability throughout the supply chain. By leveraging technology and innovative systems, companies can more effectively measure, monitor, and manage their environmental impacts. This facilitates accurate reporting and enables the development of strategies to minimize environmental harm and promote sustainability across the supply chain. 

Social impact assessment is equally important. Assessing the social impacts of supply chain operations, such as labor practices, working conditions, human rights issues, and community engagement initiatives, and reporting on efforts to promote fair labor practices and social responsibility throughout the supply chain, demonstrates the company’s commitment to ethical business practices. 

Risk management within the supply chain is another vital aspect of disclosure. It involves identifying and disclosing supply chain risks, including disruptions, conflicts, labor violations, and environmental incidents, and outlining strategies to mitigate these risks and build resilience within the supply chain. Finally, performance metrics and targets play a crucial role. Reporting on key performance indicators (KPIs) related to supply chain sustainability, such as supplier diversity, carbon footprint reduction targets, waste reduction goals, and supplier compliance with sustainability standards, enables stakeholders to track the company’s progress and hold it accountable for its sustainability commitments.  

By incorporating these areas of supply chain reporting into sustainability disclosures, companies can provide stakeholders with a comprehensive understanding of their supply chain practices and their impacts on environmental, social, and economic sustainability. This enhanced transparency not only facilitates informed decision-making but also fosters accountability and drives positive change across the entire supply chain ecosystem. Despite the significance of supply chain sustainability reporting, it is not explicitly mandated but often provided as guidelines and recommendations as best practices. Consequently, it falls upon regulatory bodies to reinforce these aspects and encourage companies to integrate supply chain considerations into their sustainability reporting.