Achilles meeting (part 2) – is traceability the next ‘mega issue’ for CPOs?

I promised to return to my meeting with Achilles (see part 1 here) and our discussion around traceability. It is in a sense a subset of the wider supply chain risk issue which has become very high on pretty much every CPO's agenda over the last couple of years.

Traceability means simply being able to identify the source of all key elements of the final goods or services (but more applicable usually for goods) that are procured. That may mean tracing a single product back through the supply chain to source; for example, knowing which farm grew the cocoa pods that eventually make the chocolate.  (For an example of why this is relevant,  see the follow up here to the Panorama programme earlier this year which identified issues with 'Fair Trade' cocoa used by Nestle amongst others).  Or it could mean understanding where the components for a manufactured item originated.

Why is this important?  It may be necessary in order to apply ethical or sustainability policies; you may be keeping an eye on your prime contractor in China or India, but what about their sub-contractors? Do they employ children or have a poor health and safety record? Are 'conflict metals'  a key raw material somewhere in your critical supply chain?

Or it may be relevant in the case of product quality issues or at worst product failure; one suspects there may be some interesting traceability issues when we get down to analysing the BP oil leak disaster.  If there was a 'product failure' somewhere, exactly whose component or product failed?

With their experience in supplier accreditation, information and performance management Achilles are well placed to help answer these questions; so of course they have an interest in talking up this issue.  But in this case, I don't think it is marketing hype; this looks to me like an issue that is going to be on our agenda throughout the profession for the foreseeable future.

"Organisations and CPOs are realising that the buck stops with you even if the problem is down your supply chain," is how Colin Maund, the MD of Achilles put it when we met; and I think he is right.

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