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Questions to ask a supplier about working conditions

In this article, supply chain expert Clare Lissamann offers several questions you should ask prospective suppliers about their ethics.

As a small brand it can be hard to ascertain whether the supplier you have found is employing their workers properly.

Audits do not tell the whole story and are often failing to show poor practice or be a tool for improvements. But what if you just want to get a sense for a what is going on with a supplier? Obviously not all of these questions will be suitable for asking to all potential suppliers, and they will not guarantee anything, but they can help you open up a conversation with a potential supplier about their working practices.

Note the last question – if you, as a buyer, are putting pressure on a supplier to deliver to short lead times or make lots of changes to your order, particularly at the last minute, this will have an impact on how they are able to run their factory and will likely put added pressure and demands on their workforce.

Key questions to ask prospective suppliers:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Who owns the business?
  • What are your aims for the business?
  • How many workers do you have?
  • Are they local or migrants – where do they live?
  • Do you have a documented strategy or policies for managing working conditions and ensuring you keep up to date with labour legislation?
  • What’s your worker turnover? Why do workers stay or leave?
  • Are you engaged in any local/national/international schemes, initiatives or other projects related to working conditions?
  • Is there a union in the factory?
  • How are wages decided upon or agreed? (Hint, they should ideally be agreed in negotiation with workers)
  • What’s your biggest challenge with regard to your workers?
  • How might we as buyers help to ensure that workers can work within the working hour limits required by law?

Optional Further Reading

Key questions to ask suppliers about their ethical practices (EFF, 2013)

How to ensure that a supplier is ethically compliant (EFF, 2011)

Nine crucial questions to ask prospective suppliers (Supply Chain Digital, 2014)

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