Tony (Thomas K.) Brown

Group Vice President, Global Purchasing
Ford Motor Company

When we started on our sustainable supply chain journey in 2000, Ford really was on the leading edge of our industry. As a consequence, it meant we had a lot of learning to do ourselves about the true meaning of supply chain sustainability.

The more we learned, the more we realized that it was not a journey we could legitimately take on our own. One of the first things we did was think about ways to bring the auto industry along with us, so we could have a much more significant impact. To leverage our resources and truly influence change, we needed to educate ourselves and educate other automakers to get them to understand how essential a sustainable supply chain is to business operations.

We’re proud of the fact that we’ve been successful not only in improving working conditions among our own direct supplier companies, but also in getting the industry to partner with us to advance the overall human rights agenda. We have had a terrific multiplier effect, thanks to the efforts of our industry collaborative, the Automotive Industry Action Group Initiative (AIAG). Thousands of individuals and hundreds of plants all over the world have received training in responsible working conditions issues.

One of the biggest challenges in this area lies in developing sustainable supply chains in emerging markets. Not all developing markets are receptive to the importance of human rights for their workforce. For countries that are nation building, not everything is going to be perfect from Day One, and it’s unrealistic for us to expect that.

Of course, business priorities can change for any company, whether you are in a developed market or an emerging one. For example, when our industry went through a difficult period in 2008 and 2009, as a result of the economic meltdown, supply chain sustainability issues did not get the attention they deserved. Fortunately for Ford, we were able to maintain our focus in this area, even during difficult financial times.

At Ford, we spend a lot of time educating ourselves, trying to understand current supply chain issues that impact our operations today, and emerging issues that may define how we operate in the future. To use a hockey analogy, it’s the concept of understanding where the puck is going to be, versus where the puck is right now. In addition to our work with the AIAG, we also collaborate with nongovernmental organizations, the U.S. government and the United Nations so we can be a part of shaping policies around human rights issues.

Ford’s overall approach has been about building our own knowledge and capacity, which in turn has helped to build knowledge and capacity among our suppliers, which, in turn, helps them do the same with their own suppliers. For us, it’s been a voyage of discovery – and we’re not yet at an endpoint.