Friday 27 March 2009

High tech meets fair trade

We could not help but notice this article "Ethical Sourcing - Securing Values as well as Value in the Supply Chain" in our travels around the web. It seems that the revolution in the clothing industry, with fair trade, eco friendly and organic products taking up more and more shelf space, has been spotted by those outside the industry in the consulting speak worlds of ERP and PDM.

For those not in the know, that's Enterprise Resource Planning and Product Development Management. Wiser now? Maybe. Let's put it another way. The writer of the article would have you think that the romantic vision of the buyer from a fashion store getting on a tiny single prop plane to some remote Indonesian island to sign a contact to supply garments to the UK high street on the verandah of a colonial style 19th century home is well and truly dead. This vision is replaced, yes, by a computer which at one end measures what's shifting off the shelves and at the other end evaluates the supplier options in terms of ethical credentials and price to automatically order just the right amount of clothing from the right supplier at the best price and move those garments to hit the shelves in teh High Street just before they become empty.

"User configurable fields allow you to input information regarding aspects such as a supplier's child labour avoidance, management accountability, wages and working hours. From this data Syscom PDM calculates a colour-coded ethical trading rating for each supplier".

It goes further in trying to make sure that big companies are not cought out my the odd rogue supplier:

"Having software in place that provides.... traceability is crucial. Choose a system that offers multi-dimensional item coding.... allows goods and materials to be traced through variable sourcing, manufacturing and finishing processes, creating transparency across the supply chain".

It will be some time before Pier 32 installs an ERP system. We'll be using good old human contact for a while yet. But we're fascinated to see how changes in the clothing industry have been noticed outside that industry and the importance of ethical issues spreads to suppliers not normally associated with high ethical awareness.

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