Friday, July 22, 2011

How serious are you about workplace safety?

Two days ago Mike Bacidore over on SustainablePlant.com asked this question in the article "Require Safety Compliance in Your Supply Chain" (login required to read this article!). The sad background for the article was that a major Chinese supplier to American high tech companies such as Apple, HP and Dell had 15 people injured at their Chengdu plant.

When you have a customer-supplier relationship with a company you have some influence over how the products you buy are being made. I experienced this first hand when working for a major integrated Canadian oil company a number of years ago. The site I worked at supplied to rail cars of a particular product to the Ford Motor Company which was at the time so concerned with how we ensured the quality of the product we delivered, that they sent two engineers to visit our facility to check our production process, check our quality control procedure, and talk to our operators and engineers. They were not interested in taking samples. They were interested in how we ensured delivery of a quality product each time. They spent two weeks at our site!

We in the west benefit from a lot of goods manufactured under horrible conditions in developing countries around the world. This has been documented in several newspaper articles, even in my local Danish engineering weekly "ingenøren". However, the best book about the workplace conditions in these third world countries is properly Naomi Kleins "NO LOGO". If you haven't read it yet, you should, and you will understand the type of influence consumers have on the workplace conditions and safety standards products are produced under - if they vote with their money!

I am sure the first technology company which gets serious about work place safety in their supply chain will benefit by increased sales, just like the Dow Chemical Company have benefited from their investments in process safety over the last more than 25 years. An Envy would create more envy if HP could document, that all parts of it was produced under good workplace standards and process safety standards. Maybe US OSHA could expand their photo contest to include cases of supply chain workplace safety, or join EU OSHA in creating a worldwide awareness champaign about workplace safety during the manufacturing of the products we enjoy? what do you think?