So says Kevin O’Neill, the ethical policy manager at BBC Worldwide – the commercial arm of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

O’Neill is tasked with ensuring that the thousands of lines of BBC-related merchandise – think Dr Who lunchboxes and Top Gear t-shirts – are made in factories that comply with BBC Worldwide’s rigorous ethics policy.

Since 2008, the foundation of that policy has been collaboration – working with factories over time to improve their working practices.

“Comply or die is not the way to solve things,” said O’Neill. “Of course, we have minimum standards – like child labour or serious health and safety issues – that factories will need to meet before we can work with them, but generally we want to help them improve.

“It’s no good getting an audit done, and saying to a factory: ‘You are over the limit on working hours, we want this fixed in three months’ time.’

“Factories know very well that they can’t fix that in that time period and are more likely to just try and cover things up. So we tell them we want them to be transparent and that we’ll work with them to fix it.”

Leap of faith

O’Neill says the policy has “definitely been successful”, but also accepts that there are risks involved.

“It’s about establishing trust with a factory,” he added. “You’ve got to take that initial leap of faith, but we do require regular reports on progress, and if a company isn’t playing ball, you can usually tell.”

These rigorous standards can be commercially challenging, according to O’Neill, but he says it’s a company ideology and policy that needs to be met. “We carry the BBC name and are wholly owned by the BBC, and there’s simply an expectation from the British public and around the world that we are going to somehow be doing the right thing.”

Industry consensus

Going forward, O’Neill says BBC Worldwide is working closely with multi-stakeholder initiatives like the Ehtical Trading Initiative and the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (SEDEX) to try and establish an industry-wide consensus on supply chain practices.

“Some companies expect everything to be fixed straight away and that makes our life harder, because factories are being taught by other clients that they should hide those issues, when really we want to work with them to work it out.

“Collaboration is the only way to make it work; otherwise it’s just an endless cycle of wash, rinse, repeat.”

Kevin O’Neill at edie’s Responsible Procurement & Supplier Engagement conference

edie’s fourth annual 2015 Responsible Procurement & Supplier Engagement conference takes place on 15 September at the Holiday Inn Birmingham City Centre hotel. 

Kevin O’Neill will be presenting a talk on the topic ‘Beyond audit – making more effective use of time and resources’.

To find out more about the conference, click here.

 Brad Allen

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