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  • Writer's pictureFederica Suess

4 Tips on how to improve your Supplier Code of Conduct

Make your Supplier Code of Conduct more effective with the following 4 actions

The Supplier Code of Conduct gains momentum, as legislation on business and human rights is being passed in Europe. Companies are being required to pass on their social and environmental requirements to their business partner making implementing ethical principles part of the contract.

What is a Supplier Code of Conduct exactly?

The Supplier Code of Conduct contains the principles by which suppliers are expected to act upon.

For the Supplier Code of Conduct to evolve from a “legal” document into a “living and breathing” document, we must get our hands dirty and work with and on the document constantly, as this will be the standard we hope our suppliers will achieve.

In this article, I share 4 tips on how to improve your Supplier Code of Conduct (SCoC) and what benefits these small changes can bring into the relationship between buyers and suppliers.

Tip #1: 💬Use Concrete Language

Even though the code of conduct is a legal document, it's important that the supplier has a chance to understands what the different principles mean.

We are suggesting to be as concrete as possible when formulating the content of the SCoC.

Instead of writing "We shall not discriminate based on gender, age, etc." try instead to write:

"We shall not exclude, prefer or discriminate during the entire job cycle (hiring, employment promotion and firing) based on personal characteristics, such as gender....“

What you can do: Read through the SCoC and identify where you can be more specific and concrete. What additional information is necessary to clearly explain your expectations? Where can you replace vague language with more concrete terms?

When you are concrete in formulating your expectations, they will be better understood by your suppliers, which is a basic step in living up them.

Tip #️2: ✅Use positive language

We often read principles such as "No Forced Labor", "No Child Labor", "No Discrimination" in SCoC. Formulating the principles in such a way transmits a "top-down" approach and sounds "controlling". You can improve the principles by formulating them in a more positive and "principle-based" kind of way.

Change "No Forced Labor" into "Freely Chosen Labor".

Change "No Discrimination" into "Equal Treatment".

Change "No Child Labor" into "Protection of Children at Work".

Doesn't it sound more inclusive and at eye-level? Also, an additional benefit is that the goal of the principle becomes clear. Like what we are aiming for, which is so important as implementing the principles in practice is often a continuous journey.

Tip #3 Use cooperative language

We want our suppliers to be partners when it comes to sustainability. Only then can we have long-term success.

That means we need suppliers on board with human rights, labor standards, environmental standards. If we use a top-down approach when we write our principles in the Supplier Code of Conduct, we convey a controlling and top-down approach, which we don't want.

Instead of writing sentences that sound like: „This code of conduct sets up the requirements that you need to comply by", it is more beneficial to make them sound more like this:

"This code of conduct set up the fundamental principles that form the base of our business relationship. We prefer suppliers that take them seriously and live up them."

When we speak respectfully with suppliers, they will be more willing to cooperate. If they are not, then it could be that they are the wrong partners for you.

Tip#4: Choose legal terms carefully

Even though the Supplier Code of Conduct becomes a legal document when you send it to your suppliers, it shouldn't be full of clauses that the supplier doesn't know. That creates fear and makes the content not understandable easily.

Our suggestion is to have a section, where you state your references (such as ILO-norms), yet don't include them in every principle. If the supplier wants to know how you arrived at the principle, you can elaborate and send more context.

So, instead of writing: „Based on the convention 182 of the International Labor Organization, the worst forms of child labor are strictly prohibited“, we suggest to keep it more light and say something like this: „Based on international norms, the worst forms of child labor are strictly prohibited“

This will improve understanding at the supplier site.

The SCoC is a crucial element

We hope that the tips where helpful to you and that you can implement some on your own SCoC. The SCoC is a crucial element and unfortunately, we are so caught of currently with the human rights legislation that we forget that we already have a great tool that can be put into practice right now. I will share more on how SCoC can be put into practice in a following article.

If you want to have an exchange on your SCoC or even go one step further and train relevant departments on the principles of the SCoC, reach out to us or check out our trainings here.

Supplier Code of Conduct

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