Monday, August 29, 2005

Setting the Agenda for Social Responsibility

I was reading an article this morning from the Seattle Times about some folks that took issue with some content that Starbucks was printing on the side of its cups. The organization said the content was too liberal and not "balanced." While I'm not going to get into a conservative versus liberal argument in this blog, the fact that the coffee conglomerate is playing a role with social issues is a step in the right direction, even though the path is filled with land mines.

With deep pockets, leading and visionary corporations have a responsibility to set the agenda not only for their industry, but also for society and social matters, including the proper retirement age, diversity in the workplace or support for a controversial organization. For example, in 1944 IBM became the first corporation to support the United Negro College Fund. Did we have to? Certainly, not. I'm sure at the time it was a very risky, but looking back IBM is proud of it because we knew then what we still know today -- leaders can afford to take these risks in order for social progress.

You may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with the supply chain? Well, doing business with suppliers all over the world has its pros and cons. While many corporations take advantage of the low costs of doing business overseas, many look the other way when it comes to finding out why those costs are so low. In some cases, the cheap wages are due to child labor or due to a lack of adequate working conditions, such as clean restrooms and air conditioning. Many countries in Asia don't have governing bodies to regulate these issues, which employees in the US and Europe take for granted. Again, this is a case when leading corporations need to step in, even if they risk offending the local policy makers.

In IBM's case, we've mandated a list of supplier conduct principles that all 33,000 suppliers must adhere to if they want to continue to do business with IBM. We feel so strongly about this that we conduct random inspections throughout the year to make sure the suppliers, as well as their suppliers, are in compliance.

A PDF of the principles can be downloaded here. List's like this are what differentiate a good company from a great one.

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