The ethical supply chain

At a recent supply chain conference, futurist Gerd Leonhard observed that as business becomes digitized, supply chains increasingly rely on technology and our customers increasingly use the technology tools we provide, the challenge will be to look beyond what the technology can do to how it impacts our lives. “Companies will have to start caring when customers use their stuff,” he said. “That’s called ethics.”

That quote raises some questions: Do supply chain managers and the organizations they work for value ethics in the way they operate and conduct business? If so, where are they investing their time and resources? More importantly, just what is an ethical supply chain?

Those questions were at the center of a conversation between the co-authors of this research last summer. None of us had answers, which is one of the reasons we launched a project to “better understand organizations’ current state and future intentions for ethical supply chains.” We were not alone in asking questions about ethical or responsible supply chains: While we were designing our study, Loyola University Chicago’s Supply and Value Chain Center was in the process of surveying its members on their corporate social responsibility practices and priorities (see sidebar).