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Self Assessment Questionnaires (SAQs) can be daunting.  They’re long, they ask tons of questions, and sometimes it can be lost that the point of these questions is to measure and eventually affect meaningful change in your supply chain.  Let’s talk about how you can use these questionnaires as a guide for your suppliers to create meaningful policies that will positively affect your supply chain risk and ensure that supply chain accountability moves upstream to where it really counts.

Affecting change is difficult no matter the change attempted, but the components of success are often similar.  In order to effectively change behavior, you need to gain sincere commitment, create an achievable path, and measure progress over time.

Self Assessment Questionnaires as Agents of Change

For the purposes of this conversation, we’re going to look at SAQs through the lens of effective change management.  To that end, lets took at how FRDM breaks down our standard SAQ into sections:

  1. Governance and Policy Commitments - This section focuses on endorsed statements and commitments by the entity to combat Human Rights violations.  Anyone can make a statement, that being said, they’re indicative of a commitment to begin enacting real policies that will change lives.  By starting with statements, you’re getting senior executives to commit to these initiatives.  This will make it easier for you to convince your suppliers to enact concrete policies when the time comes.
  2. Operationalizing Respect and Human Rights Due Diligence - Operationalizing something means setting up realistic and achievable goal and the policies to meet those goals.  They should set forth actionable items that will drive the company towards the goals laid out in the statements described in section 1.  They shouldn’t be onerous, but should target the underlying problems.  A policy that is difficult to execute is a policy that is ignored.  Instead, strive for small victories with higher adoption.
  3. Operational Grievance and Remedy Mechanisms - In order to make change, there needs to be a feedback pipeline.  This means that people affected by issues are able to voice their concerns, these concerns are heard, categorized, and acted upon.
  4. Human Rights Practices - This is where the rubber meets the road.  Are there tangible issues your supplier has that need to be rectified.  Moving forward solutions to these should be committed to in section 1 and directly confronted in section 2.

The final step, not outlined in the SAQ itself, is followup.  SAQs won’t affect meaningful change if they’re seen as one time tasks to be completed and forgotten.  SAQs represent what should be an on going conversation with your supply chain partners.  Their purpose is to create a baseline understanding of the current risks in your supply chain in order to create a strategy for progress.

Framing the Conversation

While the SAQs are explicitly a tool to see where the supplier is currently at in their Human Rights protection journey, they can also be a guide to that end.  Each question is not some unchangeable truth about their company.  Instead, it is an opportunity to improve.  When discussing these questions with your suppliers, it’s best to come from the direction of mutual support.  You get to provide information to your suppliers that they may not have had or even knew that they needed.  While you’re having this discussion with them at the moment, it’s almost guaranteed that other customers will be coming to them in the future.  Your collaboration now, will pay dividends for them in the future as more companies begin to focus on their supply chain risk.

Bring a few examples as to not overwhelm the conversation with generalities.  Pick a few questions from the SAQ with answers you’d like to improve and a few ideas on how to create policies that would improve these answers.  Collaboration is key.  This isn’t a mandate laid down by you, but a benefit your are providing as part of your partnership.  “Let’s figure out a way we can protect you, the supplier, so that us ,the customer (and all your customers), can continue our relationship without worrying about the risks.”

Let’s look at a specific example:

Say your supplier does not have a documented policy of tracking reports of modern slavery. How can you help build a path for that policy to be enacted?  Let’s make an action plan:

  • Find a champion. A champion should be a senior manager or executive who will support this process and help you enact this policy (and hopefully others).
  • Get with IT or HR to create dedicated contact information for human rights reporting (e.g. phone, e-mail, etc).
  • Have this contact information go to the relevant HR professional and your champion executive.
  • Ensure this contact information is visible in relevant spaces. This may mean digitally on their website, but most likely it’ll be physically in the actual workspaces where people may be at risk.
  • Get proof. Again, this can be collaborative rather than accusatory. Getting pictures of the contact information proudly displayed in factories or workshops is a great way to show how this process is making meaningful progress.
  • Iterate. Now that we’ve tackled one challenge. What’s next?

Building a Movement

By treating Self Assessment Questionnaires as living documents rather than mindless tasks, you’re going to create a culture of collaboration within your supplier partnerships.  Supply chain risk isn’t just a human rights concern, it’s a financial concern as well.  Mitigating risk and building a strong policy foundation around human rights transparency will ultimately make your suppliers more attractive options for companies across the board,  benefiting both the moral and financial bottom line.  By helping suppliers document their efforts, your providing tangible value back to their business. Once these suppliers start to see the benefits of having these policies enacted, start discussion how they’re have conversations with their own upstream supplier network.  

This is how small ripples become massive movements.