The End of Summer — Labor as a Lens Into Spend Management’s Future

Today marks Labor Day, the official end of summer as well as a holiday to celebrate the history, plight, role and evolution of labor in the United States (at least as I interpret it). Even the most conservative (or skeptical) observer of the holiday should take note at just how far labor has come in this country. Imagine how supplier codes of conduct -- had they existed -- might have been written during our industrial revolution with annual casualty rates exceeding 25%. Without question, labor -- organized and otherwise -- has played a critical role in making the US an industrial superpower during the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet its ultimate stronghold, no doubt, also contributed -- along with the EPA, unfair trade rules, etc. -- to a significant competitive deficit for the US as we entered the 21st century from a manufacturing and export perspective. Still, we'd never be where we are today without the labor movement.

If you have any time to contemplate things during the holiday today, I'd urge you to consider both the history of organized labor as well as how labor is helping shape so much of what we do as a procurement and supply chain function today -- not to mention how we grow (and decline) as businesses, economies and nations. Consider, for example, how unemployment in Spain, France, Portugal, Greece and other countries with arcane work rules would look quite different with more mainstream employment law that gave more fair and flexible rights to employers. Or even in the US, how friendly corporate and personal tax policy to encourage hiring (e.g., sustained and much more significant tax holidays for companies, small businesses and individuals that commit to bringing on new workers) could help bring unemployment down by 50% -- or more.

Aside from employment, here's what's on my mind regarding the question of labor, in general, as it pertains to procurement and supply chain organizations today. In no particular order...

  • Internal labor (e.g., the new resources and expertise we increasingly require to enable our organizations to manage effectively; this may include supplier development resources, commodity expertise).
  • Previous internal labor that can now be replaced through automation (much of the AP function, for example)
  • Supplier labor practices and codes of conduct
  • Labor arbitrage (or what remains of it) between countries and even regions
  • Skilled labor shortages (e.g., welders)
  • Formalizing a dialogue between business leaders and educators so that our children and economy can be prepared for a perpetually evolving workplace future.

Indeed, we are a nation (and world) that revolves around labor, not just as a driver of reduced unemployment and healthy GDP growth, but also for the very skills we need to run our lives and businesses. We're also a world increasingly concerned with creating universal standards on how workers should be treated -- and it's about time.

Enough deep thinking for me. Time to put away the seersucker and have the final G&T of the summer. I think I'll mix it myself today .... lets see: ice made from filtered tap water, gin from the UK, lime from Mexico and a splash of good'ol tonic made in the USA. Jason Busch

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