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Taking responsibility for supply chain impacts: who, why and how?

This paper discussed how to distribute responsibility fairly across all supply chain actors with regard to production level impacts. The onus largely lies with the biggest beneficiaries of trade, both nations and commercial actors, who have the most power to affect systemic change.

Chris West / Published on 17 April 2023

Brooks, S., Nicholas, H., West, C., De Maria, M., & Komarudin, H. (2022) Taking Responsibility for Supply Chain Impacts: Who, Why and How? Discussion paper. Global Challenges Research Fund Trade Hub.

Wide shot of farmer arranging large cardboard boxes on a the back of a pick-up truck.

Farmer loading goods in cardboard boxes onto pick-up truck in Malaysia. Photo: Marcus Chung / Getty Images

All supply chain actors have responsibility to manage production level impacts. However, supply chains are not linear and not all actors have equal ability to influence production practices. Responsibility can also vary across time and space given the temporal lags between commodity trade and impact in production areas. In this paper, the authors discussed how to fairly allocate responsibilities across value chains.

Safeguards, procurement standards and economic incentives all have a place in distributing these responsibilities, but it is vital that these are couple with the appropriate synergies between public and private policies and are suitably attractive to actors in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.

The authors wrote that although there is shared responsibility among all actors who are deriving benefit from commodity production and trade, perhaps the onus lies with the biggest beneficiaries of trade, both nations and commercial actors. Those actors perhaps have the greatest capabilities and influence to bring about harmonized, long-term solutions, such as collective action strategies like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Indonesia and the Produce, Conserve, Include (PCI) strategy in the Mato Grasso state in Brazil.

The authors also highlighted tools such as Trase and platforms like SourceUp. These will help to build accountability through traceability, giving supply chain actors to opportunity to engage with buyers and investors and vice versa, as well as enabling sustainability assurances at a landscape level.

SEI author

Chris West

Deputy Centre Director (Research)

SEI York

Design and development by Soapbox.