Tara Norton, Director, Advisory Services, BSR

How could I ignore a tweet that claimed to offer a formula for fixing the hardest problems? I was directed to a Harvard Business Review article by Frank Weil, chair of the InterSector Project.

It turns out that the InterSector Project’s formula is tri-sector leadership: “Bridging the business, government, and nonprofit sectors in order to create new solutions to society’s most pressing problems.” This idea applies so well to sustainability in general, and to supply chain sustainability more specifically, that I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

In the world of supply chains, collaboration is no longer a series of two-way relationships between business and government, business and NGO, and business and supplier. Supply chain sustainability challenges demand a tri-sector, networked approach. This idea has been around in many forms for some time (the Ethical Trading Initiative’s tripartite approach defined in the early ‘90s comes to mind), but we may finally be ready to use this approach to take big swings at systemic issues.

Here are three examples:

Better Work: This partnership between the ILO and the IFC works to improve labor standards around the world and facilitates joint action by government bodies, unions, trade organizations, corporations, and other actors. The Better Work model has proven effective in the countries where it operates—improving workers’ lives in global supply chains. The model has been in place since 2007 and is only growing in recognition.

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: This public-private partnership—which aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the deforestation associated with the sourcing of commodity crops such as soy, palm oil, beef, pulp, and paper—includes the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) and the governments of the United States, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It is also open to new members across the spectrum of government, business, and civil society organizations. The alliance plans to tackle the drivers of tropical deforestation through a range of market, policy, and communications approaches that will appeal to the different participating actors.

The BSR-facilitated Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN): This network of major corporate players collaborates with governments and international organizations to tackle bribes, facilitation payments, and other forms of corruption in ports and the maritime industry.

At the BSR Conference, I will moderate a debate with Better Work’s Dan Rees, Sedex’s Carmel Giblin, and Unilever’s Marcela Manubens to examine whether we can create truly equitable, sustainable global supply chains. The promise that tri-sector leadership offers is a compelling part of the solution, but the stakes are high and the future is unknown. Join us to hear more and voice your opinions.