Copenhagen 2023: A Roadmap for Ambition to Action on purchasing practices – an article from Dr. Marsha Dickson

Dr. Marsha Dickson, President and Co-Founder, Better Buying Institute

Another Global Fashion Summit will soon be held in Copenhagen, with fashion brands and retailers from all over the globe pledging their allegiance to sustainability. 

This year’s theme is Ambition to Action, an important topic if the industry is to recover from a year where many sustainability efforts were criticized and labeled greenwashing. 

But is the industry really committed to action? Or are we satisfied to just talk about possible actions and then hope that a few companies have the wherewithal to actually move forward?

Covid gave birth to many initiatives aspiring to improve purchasing practices and the lives of workers in fashion supply chains. Collectively, both long-standing and new initiatives have achieved a degree of success, with purchasing practices now firmly on the agenda, and no brand or retailer able to claim ignorance anymore about their role in achieving human rights goals. 

But simply being aware is quite different than taking action. Suppliers continue to report that the day-to-day business practices of brands and retailers continue to pressure their financials and subsequently prevent improvements for workers and for the environment. A few suppliers are quite vocal about this, but most are more comfortable sharing their concerns in safe spaces that protect their anonymity and the business relationship they have with their buyers. 

A roadmap from ambition to action for responsible purchasing practices must include evidence-based knowledge from suppliers to point to the various turns and lane changes required to get to the desired destination. Data is essential for a good roadmap because it clarifies the actions that must not be missed, which directions  to take, and how far you are from where you need to be. The route followed by each brand and retailer will be a little different, and some will get there quicker than others, but a good roadmap will accommodate the different paths to better purchasing practices, and be an essential companion whatever stage of the journey a company is at. 

Besides using data to create the roadmap, it can also signal progress, which is especially important for companies with differing business models and product categories. When gathered on an on-going basis, well-defined data allows brands and retailers to confirm their actions are taking them closer to their goals and answer nagging questions like “Are we there yet?” and “How much further is it?” Data gathered year-over-year on the progress made can also be shared with your traveling partners, thus ensuring them that you’ll be arriving at the expected time. In the context of purchasing practices, data allows brands and retailers to demonstrate that they are taking action, and that these actions are resulting in improvements for suppliers, workers, and the environment. 

Better Buying’s tools and data can enable brands and retailers to navigate to the end goal of responsible purchasing practices. Our flagship Better Buying Purchasing Practices IndexTM (BBPPI), now ending its eighth data collection, is regularly used by 24 brands and retailers to pinpoint what’s going well, identify areas where suppliers suggest improvements are needed, to map their route ahead, and to track whether their actions are taking them closer to their destination of improved purchasing practices. All of our ongoing subscribers are moving forward in numerous areas, although the tough business climate sometimes prevents more progress. Some  of our subscribers have also taken the next important step and are sharing publicly the results of their purchasing practices work. 

Few brands and retailers, however, are taking advantage of our full suite of tools. Used together they can set a clear roadmap that will actually tell buyers where they need to go, when they have arrived, and that they are using purchasing practices their suppliers confirm are responsible. Here’s the roadmap for using Better BuyingTM tools that we encourage brands and retailers to follow. 

  • Prompt 1: Proceed to the route by adopting Better Buying’s Five Principles of Responsible PurchasingTM as the guiding framework for the destination you are trying to get to. The principles address the key areas of concern for suppliers and what “responsible” looks like.
  • Prompt 2: Invite all of your suppliers to participate in the annual Better Buying Purchasing Practices IndexTM survey that runs in the spring each year. Subscribe with Better BuyingTM  to receive a company report with actionable insights showing where you are on the right track, and which practices require a turn or change of direction. Suppliers’ detailed ideas and insights on what to do differently can also highlight shortcuts that will get you there quicker.
  • Prompt 3: At the rest stop between data collections, make sure everyone in the company takes Better Buying’s E-Learning course on the Five Principles of Responsible PurchasingTM. This will ensure  every employee whose work impacts suppliers knows where you’re going, how their day-to-day practices might be making your journey longer, and how everyone in the company can work collaboratively, and across functions, to get you to your destination more quickly.
  • Prompt 4: While you’re at the rest stop, share the data you have received from the BBPPI with your employees and suppliers. Thank your suppliers for their feedback and encourage their continued involvement by actioning their insights and improving your purchasing practices – and making their lives easier.
  • Prompt 5: Invite all your suppliers to participate in the annual Better Buying Partnership IndexTM (BBPI) survey carried out in the Fall. Subscriber company reports from this survey will indicate how far you have to go until you arrive at  Responsible Purchasing Practices.
  • Prompt 6: You’ve reached your destination. But this is a journey you have to keep on taking, because the road conditions are changing all the time. Repeat the journey every year, for continuous improvement and to ensure you are aware of new roadblocks and problematic practices as they arise – because it’s certain they will.

Better BuyingTM will be issuing a more detailed roadmap soon that shows how the measures in the BBPPI and BBPI can be used together by brands and retailers. 

Everyone knows that you’re much less likely to get lost on a journey, or held up by traffic jams or roadworks, if you’re using a good navigation system. By using Better BuyingTM supplier data and our full suite of tools, you’ll be using the best available roadmap to alert you to problems and blockages, and successfully navigate the journey to responsible purchasing.  

And the more you use the roadmap, the easier the journey will become. 

Visit our website to find out more.