Not Water Under the Bridge: The Supplier Lessons of SIGG's Aluminum and BPA Experience

When it comes to specific supplier management and sourcing challenges (e.g., commodity price fluctuations), there are certain times when it's OK to punt the metaphorical ball, letting the market or a supplier determine the outcome, especially in cost-related areas such as transportation where you can pass surcharges, increases and decreases onto customers. But when it comes to supply risk and quality management, no organization should ever think that it has a free ride in the court of public and legal opinion, even if an unforeseen risk is entirely the perceived fault of the supplier. The case of potential BPA leaching in SIGG aluminum water bottles is an ideal case in point. Over on Spend Matters affiliate blog MetalMiner you can read about the entire story.

But the quick summary is that SIGG, the now near ubiquitous maker of lightweight aluminum water bottles -- the type that continue to replace both disposable and permanent plastic bottles -- has come under fire for not releasing information that the lining in its bottles actually contains a plastic substance that previously incorporated BPA, the very material that many customers buying their product were trying to avoid or switch from. SIGG's primary response to the media circus that resulted when this information became public was initially to punt on the issue and to say this was the concern of their supplier who had developed a proprietary product. Steve Wasik, SIGG's CEO, recently apologized for this behavior.

MetalMiner quotes his statement that he was "sorry that we did not make our communications on the original SIGG liner more clear from the very beginning ... We were operating again under what we thought was an obligation [privacy-based] to our supplier, right or wrong. We had no other supplier in place who could provide us a formula so we could continue to do business."

Might SIGG have avoided such a controversy if it had originally owned up to the fact that the actions of its suppliers -- even in the case of proprietary designs and products -- could come back to negatively impact its overall brand and reputation? Absolutely. And that's because we are always responsible for the actions of our suppliers in the court of public -- and often legal -- opinion. When it comes to managing suppliers and supply risk, let's not forget this critical point.

Jason Busch

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