After this week's story in the New York Times on Apple's troubled supplier, Foxconn, we've all seen how the dangers of a supply chain can come back and bite the OEM when not managed carefully. The working conditions certainly sound atrocious.
But, is supplier EHS management easier said than done? Some thoughts...
1) Assign staff dedicated to supply chain--existing in-house EHS staff will always get pulled back to their own shop.
2) Prioritize 1st, 2nd or even 3rd tier suppliers. This is usually based on spend, but a better way is to take into account other risk issues, such as the type of operation, presence of hazardous chemicals, and availability of EHS policy or programs.
3) Prioritize products. An electronic product might have a 8-10 sub assemblies--motor, screen, base, enclosure, hard drive, PC board, for example--but each of those could have dozens or hundreds of parts. Some suppliers may be single-sourced (there is no other supplier that's been qualified) or even sole sourced (there are no other supplier options...anywhere). For these instances, suppliers are resistant to change.
4) Decide on where the bar is set. Some examples that I've seen overseas include employing underage workers, poor industrial hygiene practices, and machine guarding. Some of these are technical subjects where the OEM could provide expertise to help the supplier.
5) Think how far you want to go. Many of us realize also that we can only get in so deep with a supplier before we are directing their EHS programs. That's not what we want from a strategic relationship, though it might be needed in the beginning.
OK, this is a start, but it's clearly not an easy issue to tackle! Companies working together will have better results, as well.