Supply chains are the path along which products travel from their source – forests, farms, mines, fishing operations or factories – to their end user, the consumer. But supply chains allow movement in the opposite direction too: they convey the intentions (and payments) of consumers to producers or downstream operators. A typical supply chain contains many links, and each link requires oversight to ensure that the transfer of materials, products and money is efficient, transparent and equitable.
Sustainability supply chain tools and approaches sometimes have chain-of-custody and traceability systems that provide such oversight. Others rely on companies’ own traceability systems, or they focus at the production end but link up with separate chain-of-custody tools. Supply chain research has long focused on topics such as consumer willingness-to-pay (at one far end of the chain) and corporate buyer motivations and business rationale (also considered an ‘end user’ of the chain) for sustainable sourcing policies or investments in production or ‘origin’ communities. However, in recent years research questions have focused on other parts of the supply chain as well – such as in the more ‘hidden’-to-the-consumer middle of the supply chain, focused on processors, manufacturers, smelters, refiners, traders, sub-contractors to factories, and potentially other intermediaries in these complex chains. Scientists are examining the distribution of monetary value along the links of the chain, questioning whether this distribution is equitable, and if it’s not, how it can be made so.
Some resources that examine the impact of sustainability approaches and tools on consumers and supply chains are as follows:
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