Navigating unsustainable decisions and ethical dilemmas By Mellita D'Silva

Whilst I was shopping over the weekend, I was faced with a situation that made me stop and think – a charity shop selling real fur coats. Now hold on a minute, surely that is wrong…but on the other hand, is the donator trying to make up by doing good? In this case selling a fur coat so that the money goes to charity.

I continued with my own shopping and voila, was faced with an ethical decision of my own. I liked a t-shirt in that charity shop, but the brand was very recently in the news for breaches of modern slavery! Do I buy it as it’s from a charity shop, will that make things right and ethical again?

At this point, I bought nothing and walked out of the shop hearing the lady at the cash register telling another customer – ‘we are not giving printed out receipts as we are trying to save the trees.’

Ethical dilemmas constantly crop up as we struggle with the lesser of the two evils or the greater of the two goods – do you prefer to help developing countries by buying fair trade or support your community by shopping at a local grocery?

A commitment to ethical consumption requires individuals to choose which specific moral value to uphold and which moral good to promote. In my own example of the t-shirt, it seemed easy at first. I was supporting a local charity and that money was going to help homeless people. Also, not buying brand new meant I would be helping the planet by not consuming a brand-new piece of clothing when I could buy a pre-loved garment.

It is only when I checked the garment brand that it stopped me in my tracks, I would have slaves working for me! As this was not a business decision, corporate purchase, or an urgent requirement, I could let it go and not buy/consume the product.

But what do organisations do when faced with a similar decision in their procurement process?

Thankfully, the procurement process is not (or should not be) as spontaneous as going shopping and not as reactionary or tactical, but with a bit more time to review and challenge the need. As part of developing a sourcing strategy during the planning phase of procurement, there are a few things you can do to avoid and mitigate unsustainable decisions and ethical dilemmas:

Understand the requirement.

What are you procuring? what is the need for it? do you need it? can the buying organisation do without it? are there alternate and more sustainable solutions? can you bulk buy and take advantage of economies of scale?

Look at all your risks, impacts, and opportunities for this spend category – triple bottom line.

Are there adverse effects of the environment? are there opportunities for more community engagement? STEM activities? is your supplier making a profit? how many tiers of supply chain do you need to influence in case of modern slavery issues?

Analyse the market.

The trend or habit to use the same suppliers is not a bad one as they will be prequalified and have collaborated with us over the years on other projects. However, look at what else and who else is out there that can offer sustainable solutions as an offering in your works package. Wake up a dormant sleepy supply chain by getting them to compete for your sustainability requirements.

Can you foster innovative solutions?

Sustainable solutions by their very nature are innovative solutions, they will be in development or recently introduced in the market

Can you use any relevant standards or eco-labels that apply to your products or services being procured?

Use this analysis to shape your procurement strategy. That way you will know you have done all the checks and balances, and in the case of any sustainability trade-off, you will have considered everything before deciding to go a certain way.

If you would like to learn more about practically embedding your sustainability considerations into your procurement process to generate social value, reach out to our Lead Sustainable Procurement – Mellita D’Silva.

For more information

Mellita D’Silva
Sustainable Procurement Consultant

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