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Supply chain assurance and the power of Why?

I have a wonderful son who has just turned 4, going on 40, when he was younger I vowed that whenever he asked me a question I would not fob him off with answers such as “because it is…” or “because I say so……” or “I’ll tell you when you are older…..”. Little did I realise that this “honest” answers policy would lead to some of the most magical conversations.

For example, one morning driving to nursery we passed some teachers on strike.

Son: Dad, what are they doing?

Me: They are teachers and they are on strike

Son: Why are the teachers on strike?

Me: Because they want more money and Gordon Brown will not give it to them.

Son: Why will he not give them more money?

Me: Because he says the government cannot afford to.

Long pause

Son: Dad, we have lots of money, we can pay the teachers…..

When QADEX was developed it was done with “making life easier” in mind. Things like duplication of information drives me crazy – I filled in a series of forms for some government department or other a few weeks ago and some of the same information was on 3 of the 4 documents – I can feel the temperature rising already!!!! A similar thing started QADEX – having to fill in the same information time and time again in very slightly different formats.

Another example would be receiving a questionnaire where suppliers are asked whether or not their manufacturing site is certified to a particular standard and if “yes” to attach a copy of the appropriate certificate. A number of questionnaires then proceed to ask questions which are covered within the scope of the aforesaid standard. To take my son’s lead…..”Why”?

When we ask the question the various (and honest) responses include;

  • Silence…….followed by “Not sure, maybe we need to look at that” or
  • “Because that’s what we have always done”

Personally I think standards such as the BRC and similar (IFS/AIB/Dutch HACCP), combined with some retailer requirements have helped to support continuous improvement in the food industry (ok – put your sharp implements to one side – I know it has also been painful at times…..but that’s a discussion for another week).

Audits against documented standards may not include every aspect of a supply chain a customer may wish to be aware of but it probably provides a sound base. If a manufacturing site has invested to achieve accreditation then maybe part of the “reward” should be that the certificate and report information can be utilised to answer some of the questions they would otherwise need to manually complete on a self audit questionnaire?

On the other hand, if a manufacturing site is not certified to a recognised food standard then it is not unreasonable to ask that they complete detailed self audits in full.

Supplier Audit Questionnaires / Food Safety Questionnaires / Supplier Self Audits, are essential to risk assessment and due diligence but perhaps it is time to ask “why” it needs to be so onerous and an increasing burden on many within the retail supply chain, “why” do they need to take so much time to complete and “why” is there not an easier way to do this?

I’m absolutely sure that there is a good and honest answer…..

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