Ethical Supply Chain Summit Asia: Eric Stryson comments on stakeholder engagement initiatives

Eric Stryson, GIFT’s newest member of the Hong Kong team and Programme Manager of the YLP, delivered comments at the Ethical Supply Chain Summit Asia 2008 on October 30th. The panel discussion focused on evaluating stakeholder engagement initiatives and the process of global companies working with NGO’s in order to improve supply chain management.

Stryson made the point that current models of stakeholder engagement are not working. They are not resulting in substantial improvement on critical issues of environment and labor in Asia. In certain cases disingenuous engagement may actually weigh negatively upon corporate reputation. Examples of this are where communication between companies and NGO’s is largely unidirectional with companies presenting reports on their work to key stakeholders without genuine open two-way dialogue. Such situations occur where companies tend to avoid confrontational and difficult topics, despite these being fertile areas where actual improvement can be made. Furthermore the problem is exacerbated by a lack of trust and understanding from both sides of the table and where attempts of engagement on the part of companies usually arise as a reaction to threats or campaigns.

For such collaboration to be fruitful, companies and NGO’s need to ask themselves “what do we really want to achieve together?” Business needs to tap their internal knowledge base and engage a wider cross-section of process owners such as purchasing, logistics, compliance and others beyond an isolated CSR department. Ultimately the decision for a company to look at engagement strategically needs to be driven from the top, with honest input on what works and what doesn’t work drawn from a wider array of internal company stakeholders. In this way, companies can take ownership of certain negative impacts of their business and NGO’s can get the outcomes they want but recognising the practical difficulties that are sometimes involved.

Eric Stryson has several years experience facilitating stakeholder engagement between global companies and NGO’s in addition to managing the Global Young Leaders Programme (YLP) at GIFT.