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Exploiting social media to drive sustainable supply market intelligence

As organizations seek to become more sustainable, they are recognizing the limitations they face with current data systems that collect and consolidate technical information on your suppliers and their process inputs and outputs in the supply chain.  Such systems ideally need to be able to construct value stream maps, life cycle analysis, carbon footprints, and other required documents, as well as track labor and human rights abuses.  Current systems are often unable to do so, and have relied on audits…which are often susceptible to abuses such as gifts and incentives.  Organizations are beginning to exploit new mobile technologies and social media to compensate for the inability of current audit and data systems to capture what is happening in the supply chain.

A great example was identified by Kimberly Allen in her TFI Blog.  She points out a new offering by Labor Voices offers a new type of supply chain intelligence.  Rather than relying on experts such as factory managers or 3rd party inspectors, it utilizes the crowd-sourced intelligence of many factory workers.  Laborers can submit direct, real-time information about working conditions and practices over their cell phone, supplying the critical “last mile” of data that is often untapped.  For example, suppose workers are not being paid on time, or being forced to work excessively long hours, they can upload their comments to that effect.  A company (such as an electronics or apparel vendor) presents LaborVoices (LV) with its concerns, such as a factory or region where suspected abuses are taking place.  Within a month, LV ramps up its technology and creates a social infrastructure of partners in the region (NGO’s, trade unions, etc.), and then starts collecting data from workers, which are then analyzed and presented to the customer in a report.  This is a radically new way of overcoming the traditional “greenwashing” that often occurs through audits, which in some cases are susceptible to payoffs or other scams.