That’s not a phrase people working in sustainable business* say very often.
More on why I say “well done Tesco”, below.
First, some context.
It’s not that the company is a true laggard in responsible business.
Behind the scenes (or PR as some might say) Tesco have had a large ethical trading team for some years with some committed and clever people doing what I have heard called excellent work in the supply chain, much of which is little known about.
It’s on overall sustainability strategy and communications where the company has fallen down.
What is clear to me is that the overall agenda (having an overall 2020 sustainability plan, for example) has not been taken as seriously as at some rival companies.
The company has also had an unhelpful and deeply unappealing bunker mentality for many years.
As I write this post, the English football club Millwall are playing Leeds.
Millwall’s supporters are well known for chanting “no-one likes us, we don’t care” at opposing fans, or indeed anyone who will listen.
Tesco appear to have had their same attitude.
Banks seem somehow to be able to get away with that. Supermarkets cannot. Tesco is learning this.
The other problem the company has had is the almost-comic commitment they once made to carbon labelling of products.
This was rolled back quietly once they realised the logistical challenges and consumer communications futility of the idea.
This was of course, to much quiet hilarity amongst other companies who had spent a bit more time considering the issue.
Meanwhile though, Tesco’s ethical trading work has become the most interesting part of what they do in responsible business.
There’s a strong argument to justify this too. Aside from consumer use and disposal of products, the big impact a supermarket has is around the impacts their buying practices have in the supply chain.
The company has worked hard on a pilot project to ‘road test’ John Ruggie’s human rights framework in South Africa.
This was a bold move in such a febrile country where suppliers routinely treat workers badly, and have done for decades. Here’s some in-depth coverage of the issue. More analysis is needed on the individual results, of course, but Tesco deserves credit for taking part.
Now, to get to my very first point, where I condescendingly said “well done Tesco”. Why this sentence?
Because the company, alongside very few others (but one hopes the group is growing) now understands that to improve conditions in supplier factories and fields, we must focus on training for business improvements in how factories and farms are run. Otherwise, the compliance mentality fails all of us.
A few other companies understand this: General Electric (apparently), Nike and New Look (for sure), BP (in Azerbaijan, on governance rather than ‘business’ issues) and perhaps a few more.
I’ve been banging on about this for a few years, having realised it much later in my career in this area than I should have (although to be fair, Ethical Corporation has always approached CSR as a management improvement discipline, we didn’t promote it in the supply chain as hard as we could have until fairly recently).
So what has Tesco done, exactly? Well, according to this article, which appears credible: