After several years of hard work and several rounds of feedback, the new International Standard for Sustainable Procurement, ISO 20400, is due to be released early this year.

The standard will offer guidelines for public and private sector organisations that wish to integrate sustainability into their procurement processes. Since sustainable procurement is an important characteristic of social responsibility, the new standard will complement ISO 26000, which provides ‘Guidance on Social Responsibility’, allowing companies to support international, national and local sustainable development efforts by reducing their different environmental impacts, addressing social sustainability and human rights issues and working in partnership with the community.

The chair of the committee developing the new standard, Jacques Schramm, reported that “for many organisations, sustainable procurement is already featured in their sustainability reports, yet there is a distinct lack of clear guidelines on how to implement and measure sustainable procurement practices.”

He added that “using ISO 20400 will therefore help organisations achieve their sustainability objectives, improve management of supplier relations, improve the sustainability efforts of their supply chain and give them a competitive edge.”

Jean-Louis Haie from Planet Procurement has been making sure that Australia’s voice was heard at international levels.

What does this mean to you? Well, technically this is a standard that offers guidance, not a standard with certifiable requirements, but you can ask an independent organisation to undertake an evaluation so you can understand how closely you comply and then make recommendations as to future actions.

The standard is likely to impact larger organisations first, as they look to improve their processes over time, but smaller organisations will need to know how to fit in with the companies to whom they supply. At the very least, you need to understand what the standard is and how it will be used.

You can find out more on the ISO website.

Ignorance really isn’t bliss

It’s amazing how many medium and large organisations simply have no idea what the environmental impacts of their supply chains might be, how their supply chains are exposed to massive financial, governmental or reputational risk, whether there is slavery or human rights abuses through their supply chains, and yet currently have no plans to start tackling these issues. Nobody is expecting an organisation to go from ‘novice’ to ‘expert’ status overnight when it comes to supply chain knowledge. However, you’ve got to have a look around at your industry and others, set some realistic goals for a few years’ time (i.e. “by the end of 2018 we will have a comprehensive plan to manage the different risks through our supply chains.”) You have to agree on the direction you’ll be taking with or without expert advice, and start working with your internal and external contacts to become aware and make some changes.

What does this mean to you? Well, whilst this might seem all too big and all too difficult, can your small, medium or large business afford to be blindsided by a physical, financial or reputational blow that many other people could see coming? Forget about setting ‘altruistic’ sustainability targets for a moment; do you honestly have a sustainable business model or are you burying your head in the sand?

Where can you find out more? Have a look at the free resources of the Supply Chain Sustainability School talk with an independent expert on supply chains and procurement risk, or see how industry leaders are collaborating with their sector such as Mirvac or the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA).

The rising visibility of modern slavery

The visibility of modern slavery and human rights abuses is one of the biggest trends that our supply chains will see over the next few years. The term ‘modern slavery’ covers a wide range of human rights offences, including human trafficking, forced and indentured labour, slavery and prostitution.

More and more industries, products and projects are starting to monitor, manage and certify levels (and the elimination) of modern slavery in their supply chains, from cosmetics to clothing, and from fabrics to foodstuffs. The UK saw the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, which ensures that big business must make public its efforts to stop the use of slave labour by its suppliers. In other words, it’s no longer enough to say “We didn’t know there was slavery in our supply chain.” These days, organisations must demonstrate what they’re doing to eradicate it.

In 2015 James Brokenshire, the UK Parliamentary Under Secretary for Crime and Security, was quoted as saying that the Act would “send the strongest possible message to criminals that if you are involved in this disgusting trade in human beings, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be locked up.” The Act makes it clear that every business needs to start looking at what’s going on, and acting. Now.

Whilst there’s no Modern Slavery Act in Australia, New Zealand or North America yet, it will likely only be a matter of time. Governments at every level will no longer be able to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses.

In the meantime, start finding out about the topic, the prevalence of the issue in different countries, and how it might affect you and your business. Don’t wait for legislation to emerge before you start asking questions.

You can find out more by perusing the Walk Free Foundation’s ‘Global Slavery Index’, which is refreshed every few years, and there are more details on the Modern Slavery Act 2015 enacted or on the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

That’s only a few issues, but you need to be across all three in the coming months, and the time to start is now.