Assessing Suppliers: Inclusive Business or Business as Usual?

February 20, 2018
  • Sara Enright

    Former Director, BSR

Many companies are beginning to evaluate their suppliers based on their social and environmental impacts, both positive and negative. Particularly when assessing suppliers’ claims to have a social impact through employment, it can be difficult to determine whether a supplier is an inclusive business, or just doing business as usual.

In January, the Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC) visited one of our members’ operations in Kingston, Jamaica to learn from its approach to inclusive employment. Sutherland is a process transformation company whose services include contact center management. Like other members of the GISC, Sutherland has grown its operations through intentionally hiring and providing career development opportunities to people who otherwise have limited prospects for formal employment, thus reducing social inequality and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals to provide employment and decent work for all.

Our tour of Sutherland’s investments in inclusive employment in Jamaica demonstrated how inclusive suppliers are distinguished by three traits.

  1. Intentionality: Inclusive businesses do more than just hire people from disadvantaged backgrounds. They do it with intent, assessing what barriers vulnerable populations have in securing employment and deliberately removing those barriers through their application and onboarding processes. They assess how they might best source new workers from their communities and set goals to improve their diversity and inclusion.

    For example, Sutherland supports a network of Community Technology Centers (CTC) in Jamaica to train young adults in at-risk communities in the hard and soft skills they need to secure their first job in a modern workplace. When the company evaluated how to improve the impacts of the program, it decided to make a commitment to ensure that at least 10 percent of CTC graduates find employment. As a result of this pledge, participation in the program spiked, and the company now benefits from a new pipeline of qualified, enthusiastic employees who would not otherwise have had the academic credentials for employment there. Sutherland Jamaica has also set internal goals to increase the number of youth it trains and sources from the CTC program.
  2. Social impact focus: An inclusive business seeks to understand, measure, and continuously grow the social impact that it is having in its workplace and communities. It goes further than traditional workforce engagement to understand and provide for the needs of its employees and ensure that they are equipped with the training, resources, and life skills that they need to succeed and grow. It aims for continuous improvement to ensure a positive impact on employees, communities, and the business.

    When Sutherland launched the 'Earn While You Learn’ program for university students to work part-time to pay their way through college, its focus was not only on producing a qualified workforce, but also on increasing graduation rates at local universities, which had seen graduation rates plummet as students struggled to afford recently introduced tuition fees. The company partnered with the university to set up contact centers on campus grounds, created flexible part-time work schedules that enabled students to attend classes on a full-time basis, and assessed academic achievement in employee performance reviews to determine if they need more time off to attend to their studies. More than 400 people have found employment with Sutherland on campus, many of them unlikely to have been able to afford higher education otherwise.
  3. Partnerships and collaboration: Finally, an inclusive business does not attempt to do it all on its own. It works in close partnership with other experts to identify areas of need, provide expertise, develop targeted services and interventions, and ensure that impacts are shared with the wider community.         

For example, Sutherland’s CTC program runs on partnerships with clients, governments, universities, youth training programs, churches, community centers, and civil society organizations to reach and train at-risk youth. On our trip, we heard stories from youth of the many actors in their communities—the pastors, community leaders, teachers, friends, and family members—who reached out to them to encourage them to participate in the program, and who share an equal role in their success. 

Of all of the company’s investments in inclusive employment, Country Head and Associate Vice President for Sutherland Jamaica, Odetta Rockhead-Kerr emphasizes, “Our clients are some of the most important partners. If they didn’t give us the business, they wouldn’t be able to impact lives. It’s their opportunity to be socially responsible.”

By participating in the GISC, client companies are able to identify and partner with suppliers that have made real commitments to inclusive employment, contributing to the sustainability and social development of the communities they source from. Visit to learn more about how your company can start an Impact Sourcing program.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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