top of page
  • gianlucariglietti

How about mental health in the supply chain?

According to a study on supply chain resilience by the Business Continuity Institute, this year's top five challenges for supply chains have all got to do with either humans or the environment. These results beg the question of whether we are doing enough to take care of the people and the ecosystems we affect and involve in organizational processes.

As some countries timidly try to get back to a post-pandemic reality, concern with human health – both physical and mental – should be at the top of the agenda, but is it really? The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre highlights how international trade dynamics involving multinational corporations in the agricultural sector are taking a toll on local farmers, who are often cut out of the network. This process has often driven small producers in developing countries out of the market and straight into a condition of instability that has led to several suicides. The systemic lack of audits in the supply chain on mental health conditions exacerbates this issue, which is also not explored enough by industry initiatives and research.

The lack of due diligence by large corporations is noticeable in several cases around the globe, often at the expenses of the weakest links in the chain. This might be the case of a large Asian Investment Bank that is suffering allegations related to a large construction project in Indonesia. Allegedly, the company resorted to illegal practices, such as intimidation, to drive local residents out of the area where the project was meant to take place. On a different note, due to the ongoing pandemic, Nepali migrant workers are apparently stuck in different countries without any form of welfare benefits to protect them in case they lose their jobs or fall ill. Similarly, in Brazil Nestlé stand accused of reducing food vouchers for their workers in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, increasing uncertainty for their employees.

There are however sings of movement in the right direction, such as the creation of Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds, the Australian national body for mental health in the logistics industry. This was born as a steering committee and it eventually turned into a more structured initiative, which now supports workers nationwide. Whilst this is certainly a positive development, it still relies on the involvement of key players in the industry. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, charity Mates in Mind provides advice and support in mental health for the construction industry. These are certainly two good examples of positive developments, but they remain two exceptions and they mostly involve developed countries.

As supply chains spread wider and wider, it is indeed challenging to check on the entire network. It might be easier for those organizations that internalize their supply chain, but for those who tend to outsource operations this will require commitment, investment, and time. Unfortunately, companies are very parsimonious with all three of them.

Thinking about mental health and wellness programmes in terms of return on investment does not really feel like the right perspective to approach the issue. Health is not an expendable good that an organization should evaluate financially, it is a basic right. However, for the sake of the argument, there are studies that confirm how investing in wellness programmes boosts productivity and therefore revenues. After all it is only logical that a healthy employee who doesn’t feel troubled by personal issues can contribute better to their team than someone who is going through a rough patch.

Obviously, this is not an easy task. There are several criticalities in establishing a sound wellness policy that involves the supply chain:

  • You must first make sure that there are internal wellness policies in your own company, you must lead also by example;

  • Clearly define the requirements and expectations you have from the policy. Is it going to be just a clause in the tendering process? Are you going to perform audits?

  • Have an idea of how your supply chain is structured and where your suppliers are. Are they abroad or close to you? How much visibility do you actually have over their activities?

  • Understand the relationship you have with your suppliers. Perhaps start with Tier 1 and look at how often you speak to them and what the current agreement is;

  • Understand whether there are already policies in your supply chain that might help boost mental health and wellness, such as sustainability programmes or enterprise risk management systems; These can be a good channel for wellness policies, as they might be already mapping and assessing suppliers.

These are tips that might help get a clearer idea on how and where to start, since there is no one-size-fits-all solution, due to the vast diversity of supply chains around the world. Still, it is important to make a commitment and look to build incremental change, since stakeholders today expect companies to place ethical policies at the top of their agenda.

A research report from BSR, a group of sustainability experts, highlights some key issues with organizational commitment to ethics. For instance, some might be tempted to simply stay under the radar and avoid bad publicity instead of sticking their necks out. On the other hand, those who try to make a commitment suffer from a systemic lack of clear directions. As highlighted previously in this article, there is a lot of talk about building better, more ethical organizations but there are no established guidelines. This is especially the case for supply chain management, which is extremely complex and yet at the same time it is perceived as a peripheral activity by top management. The report suggests that at the moment three departments are typically involved in the discussion about ethics in business, namely human resources, compliance, and sustainability.

This is a good starting point but in the case of supply chains there are a number of additional actors that will have to enter the picture, such as logistics teams for instance. As the old saying goes, the devil’s in the details, but it is important to start rethinking wellness and mental health for supply chain workers, which have been ignored long enough.

89 views0 comments


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page