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The social dilemma

10 June, 2021

We wrote last week about ‘anthropological intelligence’ and its often-underrated role in solving global problems. And this week, we’re asking: how might that kind of deep, curious listening help businesses address one of the murkier areas of sustainability? 

In our experience, the ‘social’ part of ‘environmental, social and governance’ tends to be the least well understood dimension. What’s more, the tools used to measure it often seem to be the opposite of ‘social’. Auditing software, large-scale quantitative surveys and chunky databases abound, particularly when it comes to measuring a business’ impact on suppliers and supply chain workers. Such tools are an important first step, of course, but the multi-layered and complex nature of global supply chains combined with these quantitative auditing methods can often leave businesses with little or no understanding of the humans sitting on the other side. 

Enter: researcher and friend of Good Business, Nadine Rose. Instead of relying solely on audits and questionnaires, Nadine’s research involves open, detailed interviews with the workers providing the goods to major global businesses. And rather than relying on closed questions to generate the binary responses that supplier assessments generally require, the interviews are designed to find out what workers need from the businesses they’re supplying to – often straightforward, practical things that a traditional audit process would never reveal. 

It’s a revolutionary approach, but also a simple one. Audits are a useful tool for getting better supply chain oversight, but they can’t be an end in themselves. Ultimately, the route to being a socially responsible business has to be viewing everyone you impact – whether employees, customers, suppliers or workers as people, not just numbers.    

By Sarah Howden

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