Communication and Training Techniques

Communication and Training Techniques

Apart from early education and the adoption of clear codes of conduct, effective collaboration between company and supplier is dependent in large part upon a strong, two-way system of communication. That is why it is important that a company dedicate resources such as the CERO and a supplier program staff manned with trained ambassadors (or in the case of Adidas-Salomon, their standards of engagement team; with Gap Inc., their vendor compliance group , etc.) that can liaise directly with supplier executives and operational staff. Without making these training efforts or dedicating the right staff, companies only risk alienating their suppliers and undermining cooperation.

As long as so few brands have local or factory-based compliance staff or provide appropriate training and resources to factories, complains Michael Allen, from the Global Alliance, compliance will often continue to be seen as a cat-and-mouse affair for getting the approval of clipboard-and-checklist monitors who parachute into factories for snapshot inspections. [7 ]

Although these ambassadors may be from the procurement function, they should not simply be purchasing officers given the part-time duty of handling supplier assessments. A supplier program requires a full-time , professional staff.

There are many examples of innovative supplier training and educationprograms. Intel, for example offers supplier training days where suppliers gather to understand company policies. General Motors, Ford, and Motorola have company-run universities that provide training to suppliers. Ford has implemented ISO 14001 and required its top 5,000 suppliers to have certified at least one manufacturing site in 2001, and all of their manufacturing sites by 2003. They provide ISO 14001 awareness training for their suppliers, which helps to communicate leading practices in the area. [8 ] Cosmair, a subsidiary of L Oreal, has initiated a recycling program for its shipping containers, which requires suppliers to make deliveries using only reusable containers, an initiative that saves Cosmair several hundred thousand dollars a year in handling and disposal costs. Their environmental and procurement staff hold group workshops for nearly 100 of their major suppliers each year. [9 ]

Case Study: Marks & Spencer

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Marks & Spencer is helping to spread best practice in factories run by its suppliers in Morocco by supporting an educational program for garment workers. The UK retailer s suppliers set up the training themselves using teachers provided by the Moroccan government.

Like many other companies grappling with the complexities of supply-chain monitoring, Marks & Spencer knows that publishing an ethical code of conduct is actually the easy bit. Getting suppliers to comply with it takes significant commitment in time and effort and what is even more difficult is encouraging factory owners and managers to go that extra mile and introduce wider social programs in their workplaces.

That s why a small-scale but successful educational program among the UK retailer s suppliers in Morocco has been a source of particular satisfaction back at the company s headquarters in London. The program, which began in 2000, involves all six Marks & Spencer garment suppliers in the country, who run 25 factories, offering their workforces free literacy and numeracy classes.

The schooling is provided by the Moroccan government s training board, but the factories have rearranged their work schedules to allow employees to take the three- hour classes on the premises, or to provide transport to local training centers if no suitable classroom is available.

Already several hundred workers, most of them women, have completed courses. In one factory, 200 women have taken their first exams in Arabic, while another has put 60 people through classes. Even factory managers who were at first cool about the concept have warmed to it ” not least because they report the classes have improved productivity.

Most of the suppliers say that a literate workforce is easier to manage. Training literature can replace time-consuming meetings with supervisors, while workers who have completed the course more easily understand safety instructions and health warning notices. From Marks & Spencer s point of view, the key strength of the program is that the company has not imposed it from the center. The suppliers set up the training themselves and tailor it to their requirements. Marks & Spencer s crucial role has been as an enabler .

The idea sprang from local benchmarking groups set up by the company, at which suppliers share local problems and discuss Marks & Spencer s Global Sourcing Principles, a set of workplace standards adopted in 1999. When Marks & Spencer convened the Moroccan benchmarking group, the participants found that two of the suppliers had already set up an educational program. Marks & Spencer discreetly made other suppliers aware it thought this a good idea, and when they found the costs were low and the benefits high, the suppliers became enthusiastic.

We ve been careful to ensure there s no competitive edge in these benchmarking groups because it s important all suppliers achieve compliance and beyond, says Muriel Johnson, who has supervised the program from within Marks & Spencer s quality management department. That was important in getting this idea to grow. It was also important to stress to our suppliers we are in a long- term partnership. That way it is easier to develop a social compliance program.

Marks & Spencer encourages suppliers to introduce their own social programs because it says this is the simplest and most dynamic way of effecting change. Letting the suppliers take the initiative works best, says Johnson.

The Moroccan program shows how a light touch can deliver improvements. We are a broker, she adds. We have not had to put money into this because the government finances the training. But we ve enabled best practice to spread from two businesses to all our suppliers. The credit for that goes to the suppliers.


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Improving EHS performance is a topic well suited for communication within supplier networks and between supplier and customers, says GEMI. Like quality, it is relevant to virtually all players, and can be discussed in useful detail without forcing potential competitors to reveal proprietary information. Thus EHS issues are easily integrated with the varied communications and relationship management tools companies use to cultivate continuous improvement in their supply chain. [10 ]

[7 ] Michael Allen, ibid.

[8 ] Julian Roche, Ethical Supply Chain Management ” the story so far, Ethical Corporation , March 6, 2003.

[9 ] Ibid.

[10 ] New Paths to Business Value, op. cit., p. 51.