Manifesto for ethical sourcing: 10 pledges to create a squeaky clean industry

As ICE launches its procurement and supply chain campaign, Professor Jacqui Glass of Loughborough University explores the background to a controversial 10-point plan to help companies engage with a moral imperative.

The Manifesto is seeking to embed ethical sourcing across the construction industry
The Manifesto is seeking to embed ethical sourcing across the construction industry

Just when firms are getting to grips with the implications of the Modern Slavery Act, questions are being asked about ethical policies and practices more broadly – and that includes our decisions on which materials to use. This is one of the themes being explored in ICE's procurement and supply chain campaign, and conference on 13 April 2016.

The term ‘ethical sourcing’ is often used interchangeably with ‘responsible sourcing’, and while there is debate over its scope and definition, my view is that it means taking responsibility for specification decisions, and making choices that support organisations and suppliers that value and demonstrate ethical working practices. On the flip-side, unethical procurement practices carry risks to brand, reputation and potential profits – as demonstrated by past exposés in the clothing and food sectors.

Over recent years, the idea has grown in recognition in our industry. Responsible sourcing mainly considers the environmental impacts of products and materials, with some elements of social and economic factors, but I argue that ethical sourcing has a wider remit. Although the focus is largely social, there is also a strong moral imperative to ‘do the right thing’ in terms of respecting and valuing the environment.

This concept reaches far beyond the procurement function, and the challenge is clearly too large for any one organisation to tackle alone. Collaboration is key and a sector-wide response is vital. Coming up with a strategy for what we should actually do, however, is not easy. If good intentions are to be turned into better practice, high-level statements of principle do need to be translated into a plan of action, on the ground.

Derived from Silicon Valley software development, we used a hackathon format to create an ethical sourcing manifesto. We brought together two groups, who wrote and rewrote online, before meeting to agree the final version at the Royal Academy of Engineering on a hot summer’s day in 2015. The hackathon involved two cohorts – ‘Construction’ (formed from clients, contractors, designers, manufacturers, suppliers and organisations including British Land, Crossrail, Skanska, BRE and CIRIA) and ‘Critical Friends’ (a deliberately diverse and challenging set of experts in transparency and traceability, supply chains and ethics, from fashion, food and consumer retail, Fairtrade International and the Ethical Trading Initiative).

The Manifesto that emerged is designed to be provocative. It broadens the industry's area of accountability beyond responsible sourcing and procurement, which deals mainly with environmental and sustainability issues, into the fair and ethical treatment of labour and sub-contractors. We want to see people react to it, whether that’s challenging what it says or questioning their own practises – and we shall be asking companies to show their commitment by signing up to the ten pledges (even if this is a statement of aspirational intent, I’m looking forward to seeing organisations stand up for what their people believe in).

So, it’s time to join the campaign – lobby your CEO to sign up today.

Download The Manifesto

More on ethics in civil engineering

The ICE 'Say No' Ethics Toolkit provides advice and guidance on how to make ethical decisions systematically. It gives specific practical guidance on when to say no, how to say no and what do if you cannot say no. This is useful if the situation could lead to accusations of bribery.

Find out more about the Just Say No app

About the author

Professor Jacqueline Glass MCIOB is Associate Dean for Enterprise in the School of Civil and Building Engineering at Loughborough University. She spearheads the Action Programme for Responsible Sourcing (APRES), now hosted by BRE. You can follow her updates on Twitter: @profjacquiglass

Procurement and Supply Chain Conference

ICE's Procurement and Supply Chain Conference on 13 April 2016 will bring professionals together to identify vital and innovative procurement practices to make a positive difference in project delivery by reducing costs and waste, while also exploring other themes such as industry ethics, working within budgets and new EU directives.

Find out more about this topic via our campaign page.

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