In the world of business, financial objectives have traditionally prevailed over the values of social responsibility and ethical behavior. As the global business landscape continues to flatten in an increasingly competitive economy, companies have to find ways to reduce costs and uncertainty more than ever. Supply chains are the low hanging fruit for finding new buckets of savings.
For much of the last 20 years U.S. firms have followed the trend to low cost country sources for labor savings offered through outsourcing. Technology and globalization have made manufacturing parts in one nation, assembling them in another, and selling them in a third a reality. Although controversial at times, outsourcing has proven itself to be expedient and highly profitable.
Without proper due diligence there can be a dark side to outsourcing. Throughout the years a series of highly publicized public relation nightmares regarding child labor violations and reprehensible working conditions at Asian factories have impacted companies such as Nike and Apple. If not managed carefully, manufacturing overseas can cause serious damage to brand reputation. Consequently, this can have devastating effects on the bottom line for businesses who’ve either shrugged a cold shoulder at or simply overlooked the social welfare aspect of global manufacturing. In a world that’s outsourcing more than ever, the idea of social responsibility has become inextricably linked to a company’s identity.
Consumers and the businesses that ultimately serve them through the B2B framework can no longer simply assume that products are being safely manufactured by highly skilled, adult workers in favorable work conditions. Nor can we afford to assume that all foreign workers are recipients of the same high standard of worker’s rights, as seen here in the United States and Europe. With social media, and the general transparency that the internet brings, today’s highly informed consumers are holding businesses to a much higher standard when it comes to manufacturing responsibly.
Outsourcing affords small and medium sized businesses the opportunity to compete in the same marketplace as their giant, corporate counterparts. Socially responsible outsourcing must be approached cautiously with a partner you can trust. Having a reliable overseas partner that can provide your business with a factory social-audit check allows your business to mitigate the risk of destroying the good-will and reputation that your product or brand has built up through the years. Businesses considering moving their manufacturing operations abroad need to consider how to manufacture overseas without risking the reputation of their brand.
Ethical businesses have the power to transform their organizations and supply chains into sustainable practices that people can trust. Rather than viewing suppliers as a network that they simply manage they are valued as partners in a powerful brand that generates shareholder value and an long term goodwill. Ethical businesses value transparency, long-term relationships and human rights. A reputable business ensures that products are produced in factories with technically skilled and legal workers that meet both domestic and international safety and work condition standards.
With operations dispersed around the globe, the modern business is a fundamentally different animal from its predecessors. The days of achieving profitability by any means necessary are over. Even as more companies jump onto the social responsibility band-wagon there still remains a perpetuating stigma that businesses who manufacture their products overseas choose profits over values. Globally-minded companies that take an interest in manufacturing abroad should exercise prudence in selecting an over-seas partner that preserves product integrity and social values, in addition to affording clients the ability to capture the cost-savings opportunity out global outsourcing.
Michelle Scheblein is China Business Analyst at BaySource Global. She has a B.A. in international business from the University of South Florida and has resided in China from 2013-2014. She can be reached at Michelle.Scheblein@baysource.net