In recent years, growing demand for sustainable sourcing and responsible manufacturing has driven efforts to establish an understanding of a product’s geographic origins and conditions of production. A key component of this has been the development of traceability systems. In an ideal world, these systems would allow companies to identify where inputs are sourced from (“origin”), which intermediaries products pass through (“chain of custody”), and the conditions in which those goods were produced at various stages of the supply chain (“conditions of production”). Knowledge about the origins and suppliers of goods—or traceability—is a key first step that then enables companies to conduct due diligence to verify the conditions of production, such as product authenticity and compliance with environmental and labor standards, including forced labor. Visibility into suppliers is needed so that appropriate due diligence can be carried out. A strong traceability system capable of meeting the expectations of the future must be capable of realizing each of these benefits and more.
While each one of these issues is important to corporations and consumers alike, some prove more difficult to tackle than others. A system that can address the issue of human rights, including forced labor, has been exceptionally difficult to design and implement. Whereas products may hold physical indicators of authenticity or sustainable farming, such as differences in quality compared to counterfeits, goods made with forced labor are often indistinguishable from their responsibly sourced counterparts. Moreover, malicious actors using forced labor often obscure their operations from outside scrutiny. A complete system, then, requires a robust methodology that is reliable even when working with partners that may be untrustworthy or uncooperative.201116_Lehr_New_Approaches_Supply_Chain_Traceability_Implications_Xinjiang_Beyond (1)
Amy K. Lehr is director and senior fellow of the Human Rights Initiative (HRI) at CSIS. Her work focuses on human rights as a core element of U.S. leadership, labor rights, emerging technologies, and the nexus of human rights and conflict. She interfaces with civil society, government, and business, all of which have roles to play in addressing human rights.
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