Ethical Sourcing: A Contribution to Sustainability or a Diversion?

Michael E. Blowfield
Publication Date: 
There is a plethora of codes of practice emerging to help business manage and communicate social and environmental performance, particularly the relationship with suppliers in developing countries. These codes lie at the heart of ethical trading or ethical sourcing, and often tackle issues central to sustainable business. However, there are often separate codes addressing social and environmental criteria, and no real coherence in either their development or implementation. Consequently, the contribution of ethical sourcing to the sustainable business agenda is open to question.
This paper, drawing on the work in developing countries of the Natural Resources and Ethical Trade programme as well as others in the field, examines the reasons behind the divergence in social and environmental codes of practice (see note). It explores the contribution ethical sourcing has made to increasing business responsibility, but argues that greater cohesion between social and environmental standards is necessary if this approach to value chain management is to help achieve sustainable business goals.