This interesting point was raised at a meeting I recently attended: when people don’t think or know about the parts of a supply chain that come between between producer and end-user (or at least between producer and end-user but one in the case of retailers, as they are often in the public eye), this can be detrimental to the producer because all responsibility regarding their good or service falls onto them. What’s more, pressure groups understand this very well and are likely to always point the finger of blame at producers even when they know that fault lies elsewhere, because in campaigning terms, castigating the big boys works.
In some cases, the supply chain is pretty apparent, and responsibility is shared. Take for instance the automotive industry. The supply chain is manufacturer -> dealer -> buyer. In addition, at each part of the supply chain, regulations apply which everyone knows about. Governments play an important role in setting rules for manufacturers, dealers and drivers, meaning that manufacturers make safe cars, dealers don’t sell to anyone without a license or under 18 (or whatever), and drivers are expected to abide by the rules of the road. So if there’s an accident involving a BMW, most people would not blame BMW, but, say, a speed limit being too high or a driver being imprudent. With pharmaceuticals, everyone again knows the basic supply chain: pharma -> pharmacy -> end-user (via doctor’s prescription). Again, the rules are set in stone: governments set stringent standards, doctors are meant to know what to prescribe, and pharmacists know everything there is to know about the products. If someone takes 100 aspirins, nobody says it’s Bayer’s fault.
In some cases, however, the supply chain is more blurred, and the regulations governing it are not common knowledge. Take one industry which one of my clients represents, that of plant protection (pesticides). The supply chain is producer -> vendor -> farmer -> end-user. However, nobody really knows about the vendors, and farmers are thought of as purveyors of food, not pesticides.
Result? If consumers, say, should read that high levels of residues were found in apples somewhere, or that someone has been exposed to pesticides on a farm to the detriment of their health, most bypass the rest of the supply chain and think producers are to blame. Think what you want about pesticides in principle, but in these two hypotheses, producers can not be blamed. Perhaps it’s the vendor’s fault, as they usually don’t have the relative expertise of, for instance, pharmacists, and might not sell the right product; or perhaps the farmer is to blame, which is quite likely, considering that in many countries they aren’t required to be trained in using pesticides properly.
In terms of communications, what does this mean? That if you’re the producer and you’re taking a lot of stick for things involving your product or service that are occurring at some other point in the supply chain, your communications should highlight the entire supply chain:
- At the basest level, it’ll make people understand that you’re not solely responsible for everything that takes place involving your product or service.
- Once they’re in the limelight too, it’ll make other parts of the supply chain act more responsibly.
And most importantly, producers should also strongly and genuinely support the most stringent of standards for all parts of the supply chain, including themselves. Even better, they should actually help other parts of the supply chain abide by them. Why? Mainly because it’s the right thing to do. What’s more, if something does indeed go wrong that’s not your fault, you won’t be considered solely responsible, and might even be viewed as part of the solution for preventing it from happening again.