Collaboration has, understandably, been the buzzword in sustainable supply chain circles in recent years. Joint working to address complex responsible sourcing challenges is rightly considered to be more likely to result in success than companies and projects operating in silo.
However, for brands, collaborating to leverage their purchasing power to initiate and maintain responsible sourcing principles and practices is easier said than done. Supply chains, across the commodities, are complex and wieldy.
A new online platform – SourceUp – has launched aiming to make it easier for companies sourcing agricultural commodities to work together with multi-stakeholder initiatives, bringing together producers, civil society groups and local governments, to boost sustainability in producing regions. Companies can access relevant and verified data from their key sourcing regions and then support projects that are relevant to their own sustainability agenda.
This model isn’t just about protecting important ecosystems from being lost, but also improving the livelihoods of local farming groups across entire landscapes. As Antonio Roade, senior sustainability manager at IDH, the organisation behind the platform, says, the end goal is not necessarily about improving transparency for companies. Rather, it’s about bringing sustainability to the landscape level.
Roade says: “You cannot stop deforestation in some commodities without improving farmer livelihoods. Poverty is one of the main drivers of deforestation, particularly in cocoa supply chains, for example. So, you can only tackle these complex things if you address social issues at a landscape level and with all stakeholders involved.”
Addressing social issues in the drive to improve responsible sourcing has been overlooked in recent years, Roade says, highlighting as an example the recent EU legislation on deforestation-free products. He argues that policymakers have missed a chance to tackle the underlying factors that are driving deforestation. “We want to look at landscapes in a holistic way, acknowledging that there are priorities for local stakeholders that may not be the same as the priorities for global brands. SourceUp brings these conversations together and allows brands to collaborate for the long-term sustainability and welfare of these sourcing regions.”
The concept for SourceUp came about in 2018, when the original intention was to help companies verify their sustainable sourcing from different landscapes. It evolved to become a collaboration platform enabling companies, governments and NGOs to come together and make change happen.
SourceUp is not itself a traceability tool, but while it doesn't aim to track where commodities come from, it will be able to connect to a company's own traceability systems. Instead, SourceUp is designed as a solution for companies to collaborate at a landscape level and help local stakeholders validate information.
There are other platforms and technologies already tracking commodities, such as the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Trase, and Toby Gardner, who heads up the Trase programme, is on SourceUp’s steering committee. He believes that the platform represents “a unique and exciting innovation to catalyse and scale-up collaborations between commodity producers and buyers that share in their sustainability commitments”. He says that there are some exciting possibilities using Trase´s supply chain and deforestation risk data to help make these connections and “open the door on new collaborations that can drive investment towards regions that are showing progress against sustainability goals”.
So how does the SourceUp approach work in practice? In producing regions, a sustainability improvement deal is made between private, public and civil society stakeholders at a jurisdictional level – for example, the municipality, district or province – known as a Compact.
On the SourceUp platform, each Compact has its current performance against key sustainability targets made public, including information on forest and peat protection, labour, land tenure and livelihoods. This allows any buyer, trader or interested party to easily assess the producing region’s progress and see who is already supporting the Compact.
“Compacts will also be able to publish projects that companies can collaborate on, and support, in order to achieve those targets,” Roade says. Brands will also get access to a dashboard, perfect for when it comes to reporting how much money they have invested, or how many smallholders have been supported.
There is an example of a Compact on-the-ground in the district of Aceh Tamiang, in Indonesia. Here, large and smaller producers have come together with government and civil society. They have jointly developed and implement a plan to ensure that they can sustainably produce palm oil and other products, while protecting the Leuser ecosystem, one of the world’s most important natural habitats.
But this local collaboration needs the support of partners to grow and be sustainable – especially from companies buying the products. And companies and brands need an easier way to engage with local collaborations in their key sourcing regions and show their customers and investors that they are taking appropriate action to improve their supply chain sustainability.
Landscape level change
Sustainable supply chain projects are nothing new and there are plenty of great examples where companies have initiated long-lasting positive change at a farm level. But there are many advantages to addressing embedded supplier challenges at a landscape level. An obvious example is deforestation. The fact that a farm is not deforested doesn't mean that this deforestation is not moving to the farm next door.
The same can be true for social issues too. “You really need to have effective mechanisms that work at the landscape level to make sure that it’s not just your farm, but also the other farms around yours that have also avoided a problem like child labour, for example,” Roade says. “This is about continuous improvement and sharing risks with local stakeholders and governments so that companies can find solutions that really work – not just on one farm, but in the whole landscape.”
SourceUp is still in its early stages – and the next step is for more agri-commodity-buying companies to sign up and make use of the platform, which is constantly evolving based on user experience, Roade says. The SourceUp team is also looking for NGOs to join forces with the platform and sharing landscapes information for others to make use of.
Roade believes that a landscapes approach can play an important role in due diligence efforts, not just in creating deforestation-free products, but also for compliance with upcoming legislation on business conduct. “The European commission will ask companies sourcing commodities to submit a due diligence report. SourceUp can help with that because producers and smallholders won’t need to report to individual due diligence systems. They will report at the landscape level, which will make things easier,” Roade says. Similarly, brands would only need to use one due diligence system at the landscape level, rather than implementing one for individual supply chains.
As companies take aim at boosting supply chain sustainability, SourceUp has certainty launched at an interesting time with demand ever-growing for collaboration that delivers at speed and scale.
This content is supported by IDH – the sustainable trade initiative.