How technology amplifies workers’ voices in supply chains – and what can convince business to lend an ear
Social responsibility’s Blue Planet II moment is yet to come. But while we’ve certainly been missing a mass epiphany in this area, there have already been some harrowing examples: messages slipped inside garments by desperate forced labourers in China that British fast-fashion shoppers came upon for example, or, more recently, the 400 eastern European victims of a Polish gang who ensnared them in forced labour on farms, waste recycling plants and parcel sorting factories after infiltrating a recruitment company.
Still, it seems that – as Professor Brad Blitz, head of the government-sponsored British Academy research programme wrote in 2019 – “there are low levels of public awareness and engagement with the issue of modern slavery within the UK”, with 2020 having only aggravated the situation, as the pandemic upstaged most burning social issues and a shift to online retail created unprecedented demand for casual labour.
It’s difficult to say how the social aspect of sustainability came to lag so far behind the environmental. In 2015 the UK’s was the first national government to legislate a modern slavery act. As a result, companies with budgets of £36 million or more are required to make a public statement listing the actions they have taken to ensure that slavery, human trafficking and child labour are eliminated from their supply chains. In response to criticism that the legislation doesn’t have enough clout, a new enforcement body is being set up and civil penalties for non-compliance will be introduced later this year.
Moreover, the idea of ethical trade along supply chains is nothing new. The Fairtrade Foundation started in Britain in the 1990s, and consumers who brought products sporting the label were guaranteed that the premium they paid for their tea, bananas and a variety of other products would be reinvested to improve the wages and living conditions of the labourers who produced them. Meanwhile, they could also rest assured that the farmers who didn’t meet Fairtrade’s social, labour and environmental standards would be expelled from the club.
But it seems that a study in 2014, which found that wages on Fairtrade farms were often lower than on large ones not certified by the organisation, somewhat undermined consumer trust in the movement, and supermarkets increasingly exited the system to establish their own “fairtrade” labels – a string of events that customers may have found disorienting or even disillusioning.
Cascading socially responsible work practices down the supply chain is often a stumbling block for today’s global businesses too. Very often, modern slavery statements report full mapping only for the company’s tier one and tier two suppliers and tend to only partially map the rest of the supply chain until it fades into oblivion.
It’s outside the remit of the British government to police companies in foreign countries that don’t adhere to labour laws in force in the UK. All it can do is encourage companies with sprawling supply chains to “investigate their high-risk suppliers through direct engagement with that supplier’s workers.”
Human rights tech and worker voice tools
Higher legal expectations of large corporations to have a better visibility of their suppliers’ working conditions have given rise to so-called worker voice tools (WVT). Building mostly on the ubiquity of mobile phones, these apps can serve both as platforms for regular worker surveys comprising a set of pre-formulated questions, or as digital, well-targeted versions of the cry-for-help notes hidden inside jeans by forced labourers. (The messages can then trigger supply chain audits, or be checked against information gleaned from satellite imaging or AI-driven data analytics.)
Although digital technology shows great potential in filling the information gap in expansive supply chains, privacy, confidentiality and the lack of trust seem to remain issues that developers need to address.
In order to provide protection from the employer’s retaliation, for example, anonymity is key when collecting grievances directly from a suppliers’ workers. The technology to enable this is already there. The blockchain, combined with the right encryption technology and applied to WVTs, can ensure that the identity of the worker who uses it is verified but not revealed by the system.
However, there is also the human factor. Do these workers across continents and endless supply chains have the willingness and skills to take advantage of these technologies? Many of them have to become aware of the human rights these apps are designed to protect in the first place.
Research also shows that how these digital tools are presented to employees plays a seminal role in their uptake. Workers seem to trust a WVT much more if it’s geared towards their welfare and not due diligence. Also, they are much more relaxed about using them for peer-to-peer communication about working conditions than reporting grievances.
In the supply chain visibility buzz brought about by the Modern Slavery Act, a couple of worker-driven social responsibility initiatives have already been launched. The one run by Levi Strauss in Mexico in 2019, and Geneva-based NGO slavefreetrade’s widely-promoted human rights compliance platform are two examples that stand out. However, the most accessible and relevant tool currently seems to be the Voice app of RBA (Responsible Business Alliance), an industry coalition whose members have supply chains employing 3.5 million people from more than 120 countries.
RBA’s and other technologies helping to flag up slave labour more efficiently can give a major boost to supply chain transparency. But envisaging forced labourers in dismal far-off sweatshops submitting workplace abuse complaints to distant responsible-sourcing officers they haven’t ever met seems a bit of a stretch at present.
What can make it real, though, is a more articulate and consistent consumer intention to stay away from products that come from supply chains tarnished by forced and child labour – or indeed, hazardous working conditions and sub-minimum wages. If they don’t wait for a shocking labour rights disaster to stir them into action but act proactively, it could prove a much-needed catalyst for anti-slavery law compliance and the uptake of workers’ voice technology as well.
by Zita Goldman
Seven tips for securing a sustainable future for your business
As the world slowly emerges from the pandemic later this year, all companies will be confronted with a growing global threat to business success. In 2020, for the first time, the World Economic Forum announced that five of the top 10 long-term risks the world is currently facing are directly connected to environmental sustainability. That means that once the Covid-19 situation is under control, we can expect governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and businesses to step up measures to communicate, prevent and mitigate sustainability risks. If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the pandemic, it’s the scale with which major global risks can impact business activities.
How can you make sure you’ve positioned your company to survive and thrive before the next big global risk threatens your bottom line? Here are seven tips for securing a sustainable future for your business and for avoiding the global risks that lie ahead.
1. Inform yourself and set goals
Those businesses furthest along in their sustainability efforts stand to win the greatest market share within the next decade. To prevent your business from being left behind, you need to do your part to reduce short-term and long-term environmental impacts. That means speaking with experts and informing yourself about the latest competitive trends in sustainability. Companies that fall behind in their sustainability activities will face challenges within this decade, as a younger, more climate-conscious generation comes to dominate consumer and business-to-business decisions.
To advance your sustainability initiative, we recommend setting clear goals that guide you along your sustainability journey. Following guidance from internationally recognised organisations such as the Science Based Targets initiative could be helpful. Setting a science-based target establishes immediate goals for your operations and products or services, while promoting global sustainability imperatives. It’s important that you set a Science Based Target and disclose your sustainability efforts through the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) in time for the 28 July 2021 deadline.
2. Align your business with rising investment trends
More and more investors identify a lack of environmental, social and governance (ESG) management as a serious business risk. During the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24), 415 investors with $32 trillion in assets demanded that governments move to address climate change. Large investment funds have already begun divesting from companies that fail to take ESG issues into account.
Once you’ve set your targets and are taking active steps to move toward your sustainability goals, your business will be in a better position to mitigate ESG risks and address issues raised by a variety of stakeholders, including communities, employees and investors.
3. Use sustainability to reduce costs and drive efficiency
Enhancing your sustainability initiatives frequently leads to cost savings as your business seeks greater efficiencies in its operations and production. Using fewer materials and less energy improves your sustainability as well as your bottom line. As governments impose more regulations and eventually enact other regulatory instruments, such as carbon taxes, companies that have already moved aggressively towards greater sustainability will be in a better position to thrive in a more regulated playing field.
4. Place your company at the top and unleash innovation
The STOXX Global Climate Change Leaders and the STOXX Global 1800 indices clearly show that companies that are actively working to enhance their sustainability initiatives consistently outperform other top-ranking businesses. The in-depth analysis and focus required to set targets, for example, can drive your business to create new and unique products and services and deliver better, more useful solutions for your customers, ultimately combining sustainability and profitable innovation.
5. Become a life cycle thinker
The accurate assessment of environmental impacts requires a systems-thinking approach. Thinking about your company and its impact on the environment in a holistic way helps you understand the complexity and interconnectivity within your value chain, opening opportunities for collaboration and business transformation. One systems-thinking approach is life cycle assessment (LCA). An LCA is the systematic analysis of the potential environmental impacts of products or services during their entire life cycle (production, distribution, use and end-of-life phases). Using LCA for your products or processes will help you focus on the system as a whole, harnessing a way of thinking that lends itself to insights in other areas of your business.
6. Secure future technologies
When you first inform yourself and set ambitious sustainability targets, it may seem that your business has an insurmountable challenge to meet. But you trigger greater focus when you set a goal. Even if the technological capacity to achieve your goals does not currently exist, simply setting a sustainability goal increases the likelihood of identifying a real solution. Goal setting in this manner focuses organisations on innovating for greater sustainability by leveraging the latest available technology.
7. Communicate your environmental efforts
The commitment to and approval of your sustainability goals provides transparency to stakeholders with respect to your environmental efforts. In light of the global transformation toward greater sustainability, it’s indispensable for your company to build and secure your company’s sustainability strategy.
Once you have solid data to support your sustainability efforts, you can feel confident that your communications to stakeholders will reflect the truth and avoid greenwashing. Your company’s stakeholders want to know that they are buying products from and working for companies they can believe in. Pushing a strong sustainability agenda is a powerful way to communicate the sustainability underpinnings of your brand to customers as well as current and potential employees, thereby further enhancing their loyalty to your company.
Inform yourself, set science-based targets and work towards achieving them, become a systems thinker to push innovation and communicate your sustainability activities to your stakeholders. In this way, you’ll drastically reduce long-term sustainability risks currently on the horizon.
To assess your company’s position along its sustainability journey and discover potential next steps for advancing its sustainability performance, visit: https://sphera.com/syndication-br-sustainability-maturity-quiz/
by Paul Marushka, President and CEO, Sphera
The packaging crossroads for marketing
Commercial packaging has been in use for centuries, seen as not just an essential way to ensure that food products are fit for consumption, but also by marketers as a means to make products truly iconic. Coca-Cola isn’t perceived by millions as being a brown, sugary liquid – it’s a cold glass bottle with beads of moisture running down the side, instantly driving cravings. The same is true for Toblerone, Heinz ketchup, Doritos... the list of memorable brand packaging goes on.
But the added value of even a great design is no longer enough. In late 2017, the BBC aired its long-awaited sequel to the original Blue Planet documentary, and in doing so laid bare the vast scale of the impact discarded packaging is having on the world. Alongside growing public awareness, this galvanised the marketing sector to see eco-packaging as an opportunity and to look beyond packaging to supply chains and the sourcing of materials. Almost 20 months later, a long, diverse list of organisations have modernised their packaging by reducing the use of plastic and other potentially damaging materials. This list includes Aldi, Burberry, Costa, Dell, Evian, Carlsberg, Coca-Cola, Iceland, Morrisons, Nestlé, IKEA, Lidl, McDonald’s, Tottenham Hotspur, Volvo and Walmart just for starters. Asda alone reported that it had saved 6,500 tonnes of plastic last year by changing or removing packaging from some of its own-brand products.
A new battle on the high street
Packaging is, for many retailers, the new battleground of the high street. Concern among shoppers regarding the use of plastics has left many retailers to race towards plastic-free aisles, requiring whole supply chains to rethink their offerings. It’s no longer good enough for brands to focus on what a product will look like among its competitors on a crowded supermarket shelf. Marketers need to ask questions such as: how robust is the packaging? How easy is it to store in the refrigerator/cupboard and will the brand still be visible? Is it easy to open and use? How easy is it to recycle? Brands that ignore any element of this can put themselves at a major disadvantage with savvy high-street consumers.
Choice is changing too. Challenger brands who can move quicker than their more established rivals are leapfrogging onto supermarket shelves using environmental packaging credentials. Innovation and creativity are driving success at a number of levels, from the ability to standout on shelves, to new storage and opening techniques – every interaction a consumer has with packaging, is now an opportunity for a brand to build a relationship.
The power of honesty
That requirement to understand the needs of consumers and have consumers relate to brands has fuelled innovative marketing campaigns. Brands have increasingly highlighted aspects such as innovative packaging, ethical supply chains, recyclable materials, and the rise of eco-impassioned spokespeople. Last year, the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), the Consumer Goods Forum, and global change agency Futerra conducted research to address consumer demand for more transparency in packaging and products sold around the world.
The result, The Honest Product Guide, revealed that global consumers are hungry for more transparency in the production of products. 70 per cent of respondents stated that they were more interested in the make-up of the products they buy than the actual companies that made them. Such was the interest that a growing number of consumers now expect packaging to state information such as which materials are used – looking at their impact on society and the environment – as well as product labels supplying details of the supply chain.
At a crossroads
In the eyes of marketers, packaging has a pivotal role in addressing a range of consumer requirements. It provides a key communications role portraying brand values through design and imagery. Now marketing teams at food companies are going further by responding to consumer expectations around wider factors such as food waste, by using packaging to extend shelf lives significantly.
As packaging becomes more important as a communication channel, marketing departments will face new challenges. For example, the desire to meet consumer demand to show off green credentials or support of a cause must be balanced with a brand’s identity, or the very thing that attracted the consumer to the brand in the first place could be lost.
How key messages are displayed is also critical. The Daily Telegraph reported that shoppers must now interpret 58 symbols for recycling alone, leading to widespread confusion about what can and cannot be put into kerbside collections.
While it might take a bit more time to refine aspects like recycling information, when brands do get it right the benefits are huge. One good example is Lush, which sells natural, handmade beauty products. The company aims to source the best, safest and most beautiful ingredients, never to test on animals, and champions reduced packaging. Lauded in the press for its approach, in 2018, Lush posted record pre-tax profits of £73.5 million, up from £43.2 million in the previous year.
There’s no doubt that when it comes to packaging the marketing industry is at a crossroads. Marketers face an exciting opportunity, and if teams can leverage engineers and R&D to develop great designs and drive awareness while meeting changing consumer needs, success should follow. Those that can combine these factors as successfully as Lush should not only profit but drive an even closer relationship with their consumers.
by James Delves, Head of External Engagement, Marketing, CIM
How to build logistics for a sustainable world
David Saenz, COO of Stuart, looks at how the pioneering last-mile delivery service is playing a leading role in creating more sustainable cityscapes.
For logistics firms, achieving sustainability usually means looking at the transport types employed and the carbon emissions generated. Although these are excellent starting points, being able to look at the bigger picture and taking into account the role and responsibilities of the business as a whole is imperative.
There are many frameworks that can help companies structure their internal approach to sustainability. At Stuart, we use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to help us envision what we could do for each of the categories they outline. Although not all are directly applicable, this process helped us think more broadly about our business, helping us drive the biggest impact possible.
There are three key pillars logistics businesses should focus on: reducing CO2e emissions per delivery, building a shared urban infrastructure and creating sustainable foundations beyond each delivery.
1. Reducing carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions per delivery
If we are to satisfy customers' ever-rising desire to purchase online, emissions from traffic caused by delivery vehicles are likely to grow. Currently, it is estimated that they will increase by up to 32 per cent, with congestion rising by 21 per cent, causing irreparable damage to our urban environments.
“At Stuart, we know where we want to go: we want to lower the CO2e emission for each of our deliveries to the minimum,” says COO David Saenz.
We have two tools at our disposal here:
• Reducing the CO2e emission of our fleets
• Reducing the average distance a package travels
“It is the combination of those two components that will result in effective CO2e emission reduction,” Saenz explains.
Green transportation has exciting potential and huge momentum, and is a sector that is continuously innovating and improving. Transitioning to a full green fleet means considering a number of elements. Being able to transition in the most effective way, while providing solutions that appeal to our courier partner community, is fundamental.
Numerous exciting projects are being developed to deliver on this long-term promise.
We strongly believe success lies through partnerships. Partnerships with vehicle manufacturers (mainly small, agile two- or three-wheel vehicles) will help manage the balance between courier appeal, delivery efficiency and environmental impact. For example, Stuart works with Kyrole e-trailers, which can transport up to 250kg with zero emissions in an agile way.
Partnerships to help couriers retrofit their vehicles – replacing petrol engines with electric engines, or helping transition to greener vehicles – will be central to our strategy, as will partnerships with governments to help shape forward-thinking policies on sustainability.
2. Building a shared urban infrastructure
The traditional business model for retailers and logistics operators is for each to build and operate their own fleet of vehicles. Yet if providers were to pool clients’ volumes, they could optimise three core logistical elements: routing, capacity and vehicles. Building a tech stack and innovative delivery models that take these challenges into account is at the heart of Stuart’s mission to make cities less congested and polluted.
Thanks to our B2B business model, we are creating a shared logistics infrastructure in urban centres across the UK, France, Spain and Poland, which any client can use, powered by smart-routing algorithms, that optimise delivery routes and parcel distribution.
By introducing our Hub to Home solution, for example, retailers can inject their parcels directly into city centre micro-hubs, cutting down the inefficiencies and distribution times generated from a traditional network set-up and enabling usage of a shared fleet of eco-friendly vehicles. We focus on eliminating the extra emissions being created through the traditional multi-step infrastructure, which see retailers typically ship goods to their own extra-urban warehouse, then to a third-party carrier distribution centre, only to be finally loaded onto a truck for distribution.
The Stuart solution will cut down distribution times, improve routing optimisations and precision, and – most importantly – will significantly reduce carbon emissions.
3. Creating sustainable foundations beyond delivery
Last, but by no means least, Stuart’s goal is to build a wider company infrastructure around the concept of sustainable cities, which not only incorporates green vehicles and innovative models, as illustrated above, but also takes into account the main pillars that uphold the business: the courier fleet, our employees and the wider urban community.
As Saenz says, “We believe that sustainability will impact all for the better and it is important for all players – governments, businesses and citizens – to co-operate on this matter.”
Internally, the construction of a culture of sustainability means that the initiatives that target the challenges we face, including having sustainability leads in each country and setting clear objectives around sustainability goals, are embraced on both an individual and team level, throughout an organisation.
Stuart is committed to being a force for change in this environment, and the impact that we can have goes beyond building green fleets and creating eco-friendly delivery solutions. We believe that by opening up the conversation to other players in the field – like-minded businesses, retailers, carriers and manufacturers of technology solutions alike – alongside government input, such as the Green New Deal proposal, we can revolutionise the future of the urban landscape.
We’re at the tipping point for sustainability, and our aim is to show that not only can goods be transported and delivered in a sustainable, efficient and precise manner, but that an organisation like Stuart, when considering the three pillars outlined above, can play a much larger role in building a sustainable world.
Want to join the revolution and find out more about Stuart’s sustainable delivery objectives? Get in touch!
Image provided by Stuart Delivery
“Ethics plus” – How to lead organisations to success
Group CEO at CIPS Malcolm Harrison on how strong leaders should have “ethics plus” at their core, and how they can lead their organisation to a position of strength and longevity.
You could be forgiven for thinking that, with recent political and economic upheavals, environmental disasters and the rapid spread of Covid-19 threatening our health and supply chains, we are operating in an age of extremes. In the World Economic Forum 2020 report on risk, an important source of information for risk mitigation for leaders, the top three risks listed as “likely” were extreme weather, climate action failure and natural disasters. However, the impacts on particular businesses are more difficult to predict.
Strong leaders in procurement and supply management can drive significant change in their organisations, but they are working in a landscape that is increasingly difficult to understand and to forecast. The speed of change in business has introduced more volatility, turning old ways of working upside down. When I started in procurement, there were only two goals for a leader in procurement and supply management – continuity of supply and delivering value across the supply chain. Now it is about managing risks, corporate reputation, being the best customer and being open to investment opportunities. Value will always include business growth, increased innovation, digitalisation, sustainable supply chains, the development of new supply markets and increased social value – all challenging the skills, experience and abilities of professionals to their limit.
Uncertainty affects a leader’s ability to forecast potential outcomes – a core skill for any CEO leading their organisation to a position of strength and longevity. Though a level of uncertainty in the business world has always existed, there are always new situations to consider and react to, so no leader can remain complacent for long.
Complexity is another challenge. Whether it is highly technical IT solutions or developing new relationships with stakeholders or suppliers, leaders need to unravel and make sense of complex projects while juggling multiple priorities.
Adding a cloud of ambiguity around trade deals means many leaders are struggling to make the right decisions and create the most effective plans for their business.
As these pressures heighten, it may be tempting to cut corners. But, as any credible leader knows, keeping integrity and transparency at the core of any decision-making is the strongest way forward. In fact, responsible procurement is a reputational and economic imperative. I call this “ethics plus”, where day-to-day business decisions are made, almost without thinking, with a focus on doing the right thing. This would include issues around modern slavery, environmental sustainability such as climate change, labour conditions among suppliers, or socially inclusive opportunities.
We always challenge our procurement leaders to keep improving by becoming chartered, to demonstrate they have the latest insight and the most up-to-date skills, and implement the most ethical practices. That strict adherence to ethics also includes paying suppliers on time. The Small Business Commissioner recently published a report on Bombardier Transport UK, highlighting the company’s unacceptable practices such as paying SME invoices up to 223 days late. The commission is getting tougher on larger corporates dragging their feet on responsible payment, which is a welcome development. Poor payment practices have a knock-on effect and impact everyone. But good procurement and supply chain practice should not need a gun to the head. Compare and contrast this to Rio Tinto’s commitment to pay its small suppliers within 20 days and it proves that, with focus and commitment, ethical treatment of suppliers can be achieved.
Lastly, one of the trends in business I have seen recently is all about “superforecasters”. These are individuals who excel in the art and science of forecasting future business challenges. These superforecasters are not necessarily experts in their field, but they have the ability to predict the disrupting events that blindside businesses. For me, good leaders have the same skills.
Like a superforecaster, strong leaders gather as much insight as possible about their business, customers, global risk and opportunity. They get into the habit of keeping these worst-case scenarios uppermost in their minds and prepare for them. They develop and support their teams to increase capabilities. With some intellectual humility they are brave enough to change course when the need arrives.
We may be suffering from the effects of uncertainty at the moment, but like any terrain, formidable leaders can conquer these challenges with the right knowledge, the right equipment and the right skills. Armed with an inquisitive and decisive attitude, and influential and persuasive skills, a strong procurement and supply management leader can steer not only their teams but their organisation to success.
These are the plastic items that most kill whales, dolphins, turtles and seabirds
How do we save whales and other marine animals from plastic in the ocean? Our new review shows reducing plastic pollution can prevent the deaths of beloved marine species. Over 700 marine species, including half of the world’s cetaceans (such as whales and dolphins), all of its sea turtles and a third of its seabirds, are known to ingest plastic.
When animals eat plastic, it can block their digestive system, causing a long, slow death from starvation. Sharp pieces of plastic can also pierce the gut wall, causing infection and sometimes death. As little as one piece of ingested plastic can kill an animal.
About eight million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean each year, so solving the problem may seem overwhelming. How do we reduce harm to whales and other marine animals from that much plastic?
Like a hospital overwhelmed with patients, we triage. By identifying the items that are deadly to the most vulnerable species, we can apply solutions that target these most deadly items.
Some plastics are deadlier than others
In 2016, experts identified four main items they considered to be most deadly to wildlife: fishing debris, plastic bags, balloons and plastic utensils.
We tested these expert predictions by assessing data from 76 published research papers incorporating 1,328 marine animals (132 cetaceans, 20 seals and sea lions, 515 sea turtles and 658 seabirds) from 80 species.
We examined which items caused the greatest number of deaths in each group, and also the “lethality” of each item (how many deaths per interaction). We found the experts got it right for three of four items.
Flexible plastics, such as plastic sheets, bags and packaging, can cause gut blockage and were responsible for the greatest number of deaths over all animal groups. These film plastics caused the most deaths in cetaceans and sea turtles. Fishing debris, such as nets, lines and tackle, caused fatalities in larger animals, particularly seals and sea lions.
Turtles and whales that eat debris can have difficulty swimming, which may increase the risk of being struck by ships or boats. In contrast, seals and sea lions don’t eat much plastic, but can die from eating fishing debris.
Balloons, ropes and rubber, meanwhile, were deadly for smaller fauna. And hard plastics caused the most deaths among seabirds. Rubber, fishing debris, metal and latex (including balloons) were the most lethal for birds, with the highest chance of causing death per recorded ingestion.
What’s the solution?
The most cost-efficient way to reduce marine megafauna deaths from plastic ingestion is to target the most lethal items and prioritise their reduction in the environment.
Targeting big plastic items is also smart, as they can break down into smaller pieces. Small debris fragments such as microplastics and fibres are a lower management priority, as they cause significantly fewer deaths to megafauna and are more difficult to manage.
Flexible film-like plastics, including plastic bags and packaging, rank among the ten most common items in marine debris surveys globally. Plastic bag bans and fees for bags have already been shown to reduce bags littered into the environment. Improving local disposal and engineering solutions to enable recycling and improve the life span of plastics may also help reduce littering.
Lost fishing gear is particularly lethal. Fisheries have high gear loss rates: 5.7% of all nets and 29% of all lines are lost annually in commercial fisheries. The introduction of minimum standards of loss-resistant or higher quality gear can reduce loss.
Other steps can help, too, including
Outreach and education to recreational fishers to highlight the harmful effects of fishing gear could also have benefit.
Balloons, latex and rubber are rare in the marine environment, but are disproportionately lethal, particularly to sea turtles and seabirds. Preventing intentional balloon releases and accidental release during events and celebrations would require legislation and a shift in public will.
The combination of policy change with behaviour change campaigns are known to be the most effective at reducing coastal litter across Australia.
Reducing film-like plastics, fishing debris and latex/balloons entering the environment would likely have the best outcome in directly reducing mortality of marine megafauna.
Lauren Roman, Postdoctoral Researcher, Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO; Britta Denise Hardesty, Principal Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship, CSIRO; Chris Wilcox, Senior Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO, and Qamar Schuyler, Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmospheres, CSIRO
Sustainability drives innovation in packaging
For almost everything we buy (the exceptions might be cars and houses), packaging is essential. It protects items when they are being transported and preserves them when they are stored or on shop shelves. And it acts as a platform for important messages to be communicated to consumers.
We need packaging. But we also need packaging that is sustainable. On average, packaging accounts for about 5 per cent of the energy used in the life cycle of a food product, making it a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also a major source of pollution on land and in oceans. Consumers around the world are increasingly concerned about the problems that packaging causes. And that’s why retailers and manufacturers are addressing the issue.
The common mantra is for sustainability in packaging is “reduce, reuse, recycle”, and there are a number of strategies that manufacturers can adopt:
Clearly there are a number of different opportunities for packaging companies to act sustainably. And one company that is at the forefront of sustainable packaging is Universal Flexible Packaging (Uniflex). The family-run firm, founded in 1995 and employing 170 people in the Leicester area, provides a one-stop-shop for food brands, designing, printing, packing, storing and delivering products, and in some cases even manufacturing the product itself.
The company’s CEO, Tinku Durrani, is convinced that sustainability is an essential element of responsible packaging. But he approaches the issue pragmatically. It’s important, he says, to realise that recycling isn’t always what it seems. Only about 9 per cent of plastic waste is recycled. 12 per cent is burned, often with damaging consequences to the atmosphere. And a staggering 79 per cent ends up in landfill.
The problem is made worse by the fact that about half of all plastic is used only once. It’s useful for a few moments and then discarded to lie uselessly, and often damagingly, for hundreds of years. Single-use plastic is a serious environmental hazard. Unfortunately, there is little legislation compelling the recycling of plastic. Therefore companies such as Uniflex are taking the lead, in the hope that governments will follow.
So how does a sustainable packaging company operate? Uniflex starts with what you might call sustainability hygiene – reducing energy use with LED lighting in its factory, investing in energy-efficient machinery (such as its sugar FIBC stations, which deliver an increased through-put of around 15 per cent), and minimising waste at all stages of production.
In addition, all of Uniflex’s packaging services have sustainable options. They offer plastic-free 100 per cent paper packaging that is suitable for food products – without the need for plastic or metal lining. Uniflex uses biodegradable plastic films that can be composted after use, and can provide “Code 4” recyclable plastics.
Code 4 plastic is a low-density polyethylene that is often used for things such as plastic bags, tubes and bottles. There is nothing particularly special about it. It’s recyclable, but as we learned earlier most recyclable plastic ends up in landfill. And that’s because recycling different types of plastic require that recycling machines are adjusted depending on what is being recycled. This is often more trouble than it is worth.
Uniflex, however, has gone some way to solving this problem, by creating a type of Code 4 plastic that can be recycled and run on existing packaging machinery without expensive alterations having to be made. This is a considerable step forward.
In the UK, snack manufacturers that want space on a major retailer’s shelves are adjusting their packaging processes to ensure their packaging is Code 4 compliant. This is one way retailers have of reducing the waste from single-use plastic. But sadly, plastic waste that goes to municipal dumps for recycling often ends up in landfill. To prevent this from happening, Uniflex’s Code 4 packaging asks consumers to take their waste back to the retailer where, along with broken plastic bags, it can be collected for recycling. This back-to-store initiative had been adopted by most retailers to allow consumers to recycle materials that can’t be processed in the usual kerbside manner.
To an extent this is work in progress. Many consumers still have to learn about the importance of taking Code 4 plastic waste back to the retailer. (That’s one of the reasons we are writing this article.) There is a need for education, and Uniflex, alongside retailers and other manufacturers, is working with the On Pack Recycling Label scheme (OPRL) to promote the use of on-pack recycling labels and to increase understanding of their significance among consumers.
The solutions for sustainable packaging are not always obvious. Paper, for instance, is often thought as better for the environment than plastic. But there is a need to look at the whole picture.
Paper is often a less robust packaging material and its use can result in increased food waste (with a consequent increase in the use of energy, water and agricultural chemicals). It’s expensive to recycle. To make it more waterproof, paper often needs to be lined with plastic, making it impossible to recycle. And paper takes up more space than plastic and is heavier, leading to increased energy use during transport and warehousing.
The best packaging material to use will depend on many factors, including the product being packed, the climate, and the method of transport and storage. Paper is not always going to be appropriate, or even the most sustainable option. Instead the solution should be to focus on reducing waste throughout the lifecycle of the product and, wherever possible, to avoid the use of single-use plastics.
Tinku Durrani is clear: there is no right way of creating sustainable packaging. But whatever your needs, there is a sustainable packaging solution available, if you only look for it.
Adapt, survive and thrive – the mantra of digital supply chains
What lessons can be learned from an industry that’s turning itself around through modern practices and smart supply chains?
We find ourselves in a state of complete flux: legacy IT systems, which seemed so capable a few years ago, are rapidly becoming obsolete, and new industry players are disrupting old models of working, changing the rules and transforming the landscape of competition. As a result, customer expectations are constantly shifting as they demand digital and hyperconnected experiences. Because of this, the IT function is under unrelenting pressure to deploy leading-edge capabilities such as data analytics, advanced cyber-security and automated processing in an effort to keep up.
Leading decision makers in sourcing, supply chain and logistics need to be prepared for what’s to come as technological advancements and ever-changing consumer habits force companies to adapt, survive, and thrive. The integration of one real-time system will benefit organisations with increased productivity, scalability, speed and cost-competitiveness. The digitisation of corporate business processes will make your business more accurate and shorten lead times during the production and distribution cycles.
The fashion industry remains one of the worst environmental offenders, without doubt – although many manufacturers can be accused of making the same mistakes. However, emerging technologies are helping to realise a whole new set of capabilities and business models that can help this sector embed sustainability into the very core of the value chain, from product ideation through to after-care. While many companies recognise the importance of sustainability for their business, they often don’t know where to start. Ultimately, if you are to become truly sustainable, your practices must go beyond PR spiel, and sustainability must be positioned at the very centre of all you do, in a manner that remains commercially viable. With a fragmented and non-digital supply chain this will be much harder to change, so traceability, enabled by tech such as blockchain, is going to make a gigantic impact.
For too long academia has focused on theory over practice, but that is changing. Consumer-focused industries are moving at a blinding pace, from supply chain digitisation through to retail trends. They are looking specifically at how to attract and maintain a strong consumer relationship resulting in a profitable business model. The realisation that the academic community must shift to better prepare students for positions in this new and very real world is evident, and so the focus of some institutions is shifting towards skill-based education. The retraining of “other-skilled” individuals is equally important as new training is to the “less experienced” youth. In today’s world, age is but a number – you will be judged on your merits.
This is a practice that is perhaps more applicable, though not unique, to the fashion industry. US and European mass-market brands were rushing to move as much production to Asia as possible in order to gain a cost advantage. Some of them have successfully done this, ensuring high quality, speed, and compliance, and have been able to deliver quality products to consumers at the best price. This mindset is changing, mainly because of the unit-cost adjustment that has gone in line with regional socio-economic developments. Increasing nearshoring (production sites closer to the end-consumer) and more automated production models will make you more sustainable, certainly, but will that result in less profit?
Over the last 20 years there has been an ever-increasing demand for greater speed and variety, but at a lower cost and with a more environmental outlook. Deploying digital technologies and advanced processes within product creation is a start, but once the product leaves the factory how are you going to achieve the kind of connectivity, transparency and consumer satisfaction that will set you apart from your competition?
Unless you realise the end-to-end potential, you will never achieve the kind of ROI you, or your organisation, need to succeed.
If you are in the fashion, apparel or footwear industry then you might want to have your say in these important discussions at one of our events – click here for more details or for more information, you can contact us here.
by David Wilcox, Head of Communications, PI Apparel
Covid vaccine supply is causing an EU crisis – so what’s being done to speed up production?
The EU has a vaccine shortage problem. AstraZeneca pledged earlier this month to supply 2 million doses a week to the UK, but has also said it will cut deliveries to the EU from 80 million doses to 31 million during the first quarter of 2021.
The UK has vaccinated more than 11% of its population so far. EU nations such as Italy, Poland, Finland and Germany have only vaccinated between 2% and 3%. After the tense Brexit negotiations and the criticism the UK received for not joining the EU vaccine procurement scheme, this difference is stark. The EU, understandably, is keen not to fall further behind in rolling out vaccines and so has demanded it be given doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made in the UK.
Whether the EU’s contract with AstraZeneca is a commitment to deliver certain quantities or an agreement for the company to do its “best effort” is contested. The content of the contract and timings of orders will be at the core of arguments over who should receive stock and when. The dispute continues.
This is all down to the vaccine pipeline being squeezed – but why are vaccine manufacturers struggling to keep up the pace of production? Details of the contracts between vaccine producers and the UK or the EU are not publicly available, but what is known about the vaccines’ supply chains can explain some of the reasons for the current shortage.
Lower production output
The immediate problem stated by AstraZeneca is a lower than expected output at a manufacturing site in its European supply chain. This can happen because vaccines are complex biological products: the production process does not always yield the same amount of usable vaccine. Stringent quality checks are also in place to ensure that all batches are safe. If the quality is not right, less vaccine becomes available.
According to AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot, issues with yield are to be expected when rapidly increasing production. He says that such problems have also occurred in plants in Australia, the US and the UK. However, as the UK signed its contract three months earlier than the EU, there was more time to resolve any teething issues.
Issues can interrupt operations too. Vaccine production at an AstraZeneca site in Wales had to be paused for several hours while a suspect package was investigated. And in India, a fire at the Serum Institute (the world’s largest vaccine producer, which has a licence to produce the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine) claimed several lives, but reportedly did not affect production.
To deliver billions of vaccines to the world, production capacity has to be large – but increasing it can lead to delays as well. Pfizer announced a temporary decrease in output in order to expand a Belgian factory, for example. The Belgian plant is the core supplier of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines for Canada, the EU and the UK, which shows how widespread knock-on effects can be.
How to safeguard production
One way around this problem is to increase capacity by working with competitors. For instance, the French pharmaceuticals company Sanofi has announced that it will produce more than 100 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. This puts Sanofi’s existing production capacity to use even though its own Covid-19 vaccines are experiencing delays. Such “coopetition” – simultaneous competition and cooperation – is not unusual in supply chains.
Another way to bolster production is to use regional supply chains to make and distribute vaccines, with each serving only particular parts of the world. Not relying on just one supply chain enhances overall resilience; if something goes wrong in one supply chain, the others can still function. Spreading production around the world – which is what AstraZeneca has done – also means easier access to appropriate facilities and trained staff.
However, this strategy is now at the heart of the disagreement with the EU. The EU is suggesting that the shortfall in yield at a Belgian AstraZeneca plant should be made up by distributing doses produced in the UK. But that would mean an inability to fulfil contractual obligations to Britain.
To avoid these sorts of issues, other countries are keen to set up their own vaccine production sites. Australia has announced it has paid a premium to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine domestically. From March, its output is expected to be around 1 million doses per week.
But domestic production is also not without its problems. Brazil plans to rely mainly on domestic production and has a strong pharmaceutical industry to support this. But it needs to import key ingredients, a process that is currently hampered by bureaucratic hurdles and technical issues. It will still rely on supply chains elsewhere – particularly in India and China.
The cost of ‘vaccine nationalism’
At the moment, demand for Covid-19 vaccines is much higher than supply. Competition to secure doses is fierce, with many disappointed parties demanding answers – when the vaccines will arrive and in what quantity. Uncertainty may lead to vaccine protectionism, with stock produced in key locations withheld and hoarded to serve only local populations.
But while rich countries’ concerns about delayed deliveries are valid, it’s important to keep in mind that many nations will not have widespread access to vaccines in 2021. Concern about the lack of equal access to medicines has been voiced globally, nationally and regionally, as government bodies attempt to secure vaccines for their populations.
Developed nations focusing on themselves is not going to help solve a global crisis. As long as the virus is free to spread and mutate in some countries, no country is safe. The global economy could lose more than US$9 trillion (£6.6 trillion) if governments fail to ensure developing economies have access to Covid-19 vaccines. This vast figure points to the dangers of these current moves towards self-interest.
Liz Breen, Director of the Digital Health Enterprise Zone (DHEZ), University of Bradford, Reader in Health Service Operations, University of Bradford and Sarah Schiffling, Senior Lecturer in Supply Chain Management, Liverpool John Moores University
How life-cycle assessments can be (mis)used to justify more single-use plastic packaging
After banning plastic bags last year, New Zealand now proposes to regulate single-use plastic packaging and to ban various hard-to-recycle plastics and single-use plastic items.
These moves come in response to growing public concern about plastics, increasing volumes of plastic in the environment, mounting evidence of negative environmental and health impacts of plastic pollution and the role plastics play in the global climate crisis.
Addressing plastic packaging is key to reversing these negative trends. It accounts for 42% of all non-fibre plastics produced.
But the plastics industry is pushing back. Industry representatives claim efforts to regulate plastic packaging will have negative environmental consequences because plastic is a lightweight material with a lower carbon footprint than alternatives like glass, paper and metal.
These claims are based on what’s known as life-cycle assessment (LCA). It’s a tool used to measure and compare the environmental impact of materials throughout their life, from extraction to disposal.
Industry arguments to justify plastic packaging
LCA has been used to measure the impact of packaging ever since the Coca-Cola Company commissioned the first comprehensive assessment in 1969.
While independent LCA practitioners may adopt rigorous processes, the method is vulnerable to misuse. According to European waste management consultancy Eunomia, it is limited by the questions it seeks to answer:
Industry-commissioned life-cycle assessments often frame single-use plastic packaging positively. These claim plastic’s light weight offsets its harmful impacts on people, wildlife and ecosystems. Some studies are even used to justify the continued expansion of plastics production.
But plastic can come out looking good when certain important factors are overlooked. In theory, LCA considers a product’s whole-of-life environmental impact. In practice, the scope varies as practitioners select system boundaries at their discretion.
Zero Waste Europe has highlighted that life-cycle assessment for food packaging often omits important considerations. These include the potential toxicity of different materials, or the impact of leakage into the environment. Excluding factors like this gives plastics an unjustified advantage.
Even questionable LCA studies carry a veneer of authority in the public domain. The packaging industry capitalises on this to distract, delay and derail progressive plastics legislation. Rebutting industry studies that promote the environmental superiority of plastics is difficult because commissioning a robust LCA is costly and time-consuming.
Life-cycle assessment and packaging policy
LCA appeals to policymakers aspiring to develop evidence-based packaging policy. But if the limitations are not properly acknowledged or understood, policy can reinforce inaccurate industry narratives.
The Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand report, from the office of the prime minister’s chief science adviser, has been influential in plastics policy in New Zealand.
The report dedicates an entire chapter to LCA. It includes case studies that do not actually take a full life-cycle approach from extraction to disposal. It concedes only on the last page that LCA does not account for the environmental, economic or health impacts of plastics that leak into the environment.
The report also erroneously suggests LCA is “an alternative approach” to the zero-waste hierarchy. In fact, the two tools work best together.
The zero-waste hierarchy prioritises strategies to prevent, reduce and reuse packaging. That’s based on the presumption that these approaches have lower life-cycle impacts than recycling and landfilling.
One of LCA’s limitations is that practitioners tend to compare materials already available on the predominantly single-use packaging market. However, an LCA guided by the waste hierarchy would include zero-packaging or reusable packaging systems in the mix. Such an assessment would contribute to sustainable packaging policy.
New Zealand is also a voluntary signatory to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which includes commitments by businesses and government to increase reusable packaging by 2025.
The plastics industry has misused LCA to argue that attempts to reduce plastic pollution will result in bad climate outcomes. But increasingly, life-cycle assessments that compare packaging types across the waste hierarchy are revealing that this trade-off is mostly a single-use packaging problem.
Policymakers should take life-cycle assessment beyond its industry-imposed straitjacket and allow it to inform zero-packaging and reusable packaging system design. Doing so could help New Zealand reduce plastic pollution, negative health impacts and greenhouse gas emissions.
Trisia Farrelly, Senior Lecturer, Massey University; Hannah Blumhardt, Senior Associate at the Institute of Governance and Policy Studies, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington, and Takunda Y Chitaka, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of the Western Cape
The new table stakes: digital supply chain ecosystems
As supply chain leaders look into the future, advanced supply chain planning capabilities give companies the agility needed to respond to disruptions and orchestrate their supply chain ecosystem
Supply chain leaders face an increasingly complex and challenging world. Changes in consumer behaviours and expectations, accelerating supply chain shocks and disruptions, and increasing volumes and types of data impact every aspect of how companies make decisions.
It’s a whole new world that requires reimagining supply chain operations. In the not-so-distant past, the supply chain design was linear, simpler and less complex. Decisions moved slowly and could tolerate longer decision cycles.
Today’s global supply chains have many layers, move quickly, are interconnected, and require informed decisions made in real time and which are optimised across the supply chain.
Selecting the right supply chain planning technology to help transform supply chains from linear to connected ecosystems that link people, places, things and time across all layers in the supply chain for greater efficiency and response is critical.
Why digital supply chain ecosystems matter
Global supply chains are becoming more integrated across multiple value chain partners, linking customers, suppliers, manufacturers and trading partners.
Digital technology is also changing the business landscape with supply chains being digitally connected and machine-learning enabled, gathering and analysing multiple sources of data – such as IoT, point of sale, weather, social data and more – to drive additional insights and visibility into the supply chain.
Companies demand agility and the ability to quickly detect and respond to changing customer behaviours and supply disruptions. As global supply chains continue to become more interconnected, this will move supply chains beyond a focus on operational efficiency towards end-to-end orchestration of their ecosystem. Digital ecosystems are supply chains’ new table stakes.
Model real-world parameters with a digital twin
Too often supply chain decisions are based on stale and static data. But supply chain models must be dynamic and represent the real world. A digital twin is at the heart of a supply chain planning solution – where it produces a virtual replica of the supply chain and models real-world impacts.
The digital twin acts as a supply chain blueprint and provides accurate data about the relationships between supply chain entities. They can model any environment and connect it with business systems and sensors to perform what-if scenarios and develop prescriptive insights.
The simulations compare what is happening in the supply chain against historical data and potential plans (such as capacities, demand or inventories) to predict the future. The digital twin provides an end-to-end model that is continuously in synch with the entire supply chain ecosystem and facilitates strategic, operational and tactical plans while operating on a common data model and modeling real-world parameters such as leads times, set-up times, bill of materials and more.
Linking planning to execution
Modern supply chain planning technology helps companies better navigate disruptions such as unexpected spikes in demand, inbound and outbound delivery problems, supplier quality concerns and more.
Linking planning to execution becomes crucial, especially as supply chain disruptions and omni-channel approaches increase. For instance, if port congestion delays cargo, this data can help the company locate alternative transportation sources, incorporate container sizes and truck load capacity, and negotiate new freight rates on the fly.
By having a connected ecosystem and removing traditional business siloes, companies get quick visibility into issues and can respond faster to resolve them.
Optimising the supply chain to improve sustainability
Supply chain planning technology does more than just provide supply chain insights, it also impacts sustainability.
The importance of sustainability and the circular economy continues to grow. A recent Gartner survey finds that 51 per cent of supply chain professionals expect the emphasis on the circular economy to increase within two years.
The reduce, reuse, recycle mantra is not new. Supply chains generally produce more harmful emissions than most other company operations, drawing the attention of the C-level as they face pressure from investors, consumers and regulators to do more about sustainability initiatives. Most companies focus on low-hanging sustainability fruit for quick gains.
As consumers continue to gain interest in sustainable measures and reducing waste, companies will need to look at their entire network design and determine how to get the network to optimally align based on sustainability KPIs – not just report KPIs. The ability to have better visibility into the supply chain allows companies to identify, focus and accelerate sustainable efforts.
How to get started?
In a global climate rife with volatility, supply chain shocks and shifts in revenue, supply chain planning technology that seamlessly synchronises the entire supply chain ecosystem to remove silos, maximise resources and provide end-to-end visibility is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must.
John Galt Solutions is a supply chain planning technology market leader that has helped thousands of companies transform their supply chain to the needs of a constantly changing world. Want to learn more? Schedule a demo and consultation with John Galt Solutions at https://johngalt.com/
by Alex Pradhan, Product Strategy Leader, John Galt Solutions
Linking education and business with the Knowledge Triangle
The Knowledge Triangle, an EU initiative, aims to foster interaction between education, research and innovation, thereby creating the conditions for increased relevance and utilisation of universities’ activities. In other words, how the programmes of higher educational institutions can be linked more closely to the needs of the market.
One of the projects resulting from this initiative in supply chain management is Framelog. The Framelog project links the knowledge triangle of higher education, business and research for the systematic analysis and development of supply chain and logistics learning programmes. A county’s economic performance is influenced by its overall logistics performance, which in turn is affected by the quality of its workforce at all levels. With the increasing recognition of the importance of the supply chain and an acknowledged shortage of skilled personnel, it is clear that a co-ordinated and collaborative approach to education has to be adopted in order to build the relevant skills and competencies required by employers.
Several tools resulted from this project. For example, a compendium of good practice that can be used as an inspiration for companies as well as universities to enhance collaboration. Next to this compendium a self-assessment has been developed where the organisation gets a view on the level of their involvement in the knowledge triangle. Together with the guidelines for implementation, these tools can facilitate a better collaboration between the industry, education and research. Using the network of the European Logistics Association (ELA), these outputs were evaluated and valued by stakeholders from 13 countries. These tools can be found in the project results of the project at www.framelog.eu.
ELA, with the tools from the Framelog project, has already developed standards of competences and accredits university programmes using these standards. Bringing the programmes of the universities closer to the needs of the industry from a supply chain perspective and in conjunction with the tools from the Framelog project ,we are one step closer to achieve the general aim of the association: empowering supply chain management.
Anyone can check their own knowledge and competences on a free-to-use self-assessment tool based on the ELA standards of competence. Just give it a try at elalog.net.
by Nicole Geerkens, Executive Director, European Logistics Association
Brexit trade problems: what’s gone wrong and can it be fixed?
So what problems are arising, and can anything be done to improve them?
1. Rules of origin
Goods traded between the EU and UK avoid tariffs and quotas only where they originate from whichever side exported them. This is governed by the rules of origin, which aim to ensure that goods imported from, say, India into the UK can’t be sold on to the EU tariff-free.
Complying with these rules is notoriously difficult – especially for processed agricultural or industrial goods, which typically include components from around the world. Different products are also subject to different minimum percentages, while some processes incur exclusions while others do not. In some sectors, such as automotive, compliance has already led to increased consumer prices.
The difficulty is heightened by the highly integrated nature of UK-EU supply chains and distribution networks. One perverse consequence is that EU goods sold into the UK tariff-free are subject to tariffs if re-exported to the EU – unless they have undergone sufficient processing in the UK. This is particularly a problem for the island of Ireland, for whom the UK has long acted as a land bridge for EU products. For many UK-EU traders, accepting tariffs may be easier than trying to comply.
2. Customs hold-ups
The prime mister has also incorrectly claimed that the TCA removed all non-tariff barriers to trade with the EU. Like most free-trade agreements, the TCA does little to address regulatory barriers to trade. As the UK and the EU are no longer in a customs union, for example, customs checks and formalities now apply, which can be time-consuming and burdensome.
Notably, seafood exporters have been struggling to handle the mountain of customs paperwork needed to ship produce to the EU. Customs bureaucracy has also caused freight forwarders to reject contracts for delivery of goods into the UK.
Services represent over 80% of the UK economy, and the EU is the UK’s largest services export and import market. Yet the TCA does very little for services beyond including standard market access and the non-discrimination obligations that are typical of modern EU free-trade agreements. This is largely because the major trade barriers in services are not tariffs but regulations.
The EU internal market in services is imperfect but still easily the most successful example of cross-border services market integration. National restrictions persist on member states offering services across borders or setting up offices in other member states, but must be applied in a proportionate manner by reference to legitimate public interest objectives.
Other rules also massively assist services trade between EU members, including mutual recognition of professional qualifications, and sector-specific legislation such as for legal professions and financial services.
The TCA replicates none of this. UK nationals no longer enjoy mutual recognition of professional qualifications, for instance. UK financial services providers must now seek prior authorisation from relevant authorities in EU member states.
4. Level play
The “level playing provisions” in the TCA aim to satisfy EU concerns that the UK could use its regulatory and policy autonomy to gain a competitive advantage in trade or attract investment. The provisions go further than typical EU free-trade agreements and could curb the regulatory autonomy of both parties. It remains to be seen whether they will be used and, if so, how TCA arbitrators will interpret them.
5. Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland’s trading relationship with the EU was settled before the TCA by the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland in the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement. It means that Northern Ireland remains subject to EU customs law and huge swathes of EU law on trade in goods.
Designed to avoid checks at the Irish border, the new trade barriers with the rest of the UK are becoming increasingly apparent, with supermarket shelves empty in Northern Ireland because British suppliers are being held up by customs bureaucracy. In the long term, Northern Ireland may have to rely less on Great Britain and strengthen supply chains and distribution networks with Ireland.
What can be done
The TCA itself will not stand still. Commitments will be tested, defined and clarified through dispute settlement. The TCA also created numerous specialised committees to oversee implementation and explore improvements. The parties could explore relaxing the rules of origin, for example.
Agreements on mutually recognising each side’s conformity-assessment procedures - where the EU would recognise the power of UK bodies to assess the conformity of specific UK goods with EU regulations and vice versa - would reduce some of the burden of regulatory compliance checks on goods. This could help both UK-EU trade, and trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. An expansion of sectors that can benefit from visa-free EU travel would also be welcomed, not least by the creative sector.
But there are limits to what can be realistically achieved. The limited ambition of the TCA in addressing trade barriers between the EU and the UK should not come as a surprise. It is a direct consequence of political decisions made by the UK and the EU. Unless priorities change, these barriers are here to stay.