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A Conversation With Stephen Early: Exploring ESG Compliance and Profitable Supply Chains - Part 3

Andy Rootes Aug 14, 2023 11:06:58 AM

Welcome to the final instalment of our three-part series, where we conclude our discussion with Stephen Early, Founder of Trace SCI, on the intersection of ESG compliance and profitable supply chains.

If you missed our previous discussions, you can catch up on Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

At Numeric Eight, we are committed to supporting businesses in their pursuit of sustainable practices and ethical accountability. In this concluding instalment, we explore the critical social and ethical challenges in supply chains and strategies for mitigating risks while promoting responsible practices. Join us as we wrap up this series by examining key insights shared by Stephen Early.


Modern slavery compliance remains an ongoing concern in many industries. What steps can businesses take to effectively identify and prevent modern slavery within their supply chains? Are there any emerging technologies or best practices that you recommend?

SE: To effectively identify and prevent modern slavery within their supply chains, businesses can take several steps:

  1. Map and measure the current position: Businesses need to have a comprehensive understanding of their supply chains, including geographical locations, supplier accreditations, and potential gaps in compliance with social and ethical standards.
  2. Revisit the ESG chart: Businesses should evaluate how their products and supply chains impact the environmental, social (CSR), and governance aspects of ESG. This analysis helps identify areas where modern slavery risks may exist and enables the development of a business case and roadmap for implementation.
  3. Mitigate identified risks: Once the risks are identified, businesses should take proactive measures to mitigate them. This could involve addressing gaps in supplier accreditations, strengthening due diligence processes, and establishing clear policies and guidelines for suppliers regarding modern slavery prevention.
  4. Know your supply chain: It is crucial for businesses to have a clear understanding of their supply chain partners. This includes conducting thorough supplier assessments, including site visits and audits, to ensure transparency and ethical practices throughout the chain.
  5. Measure and improve: Regularly measure the progress made in addressing modern slavery risks and take action accordingly. Quarterly assessments and improvement roadmaps can help track progress and drive continuous improvement. Annual reviews should also be conducted to evaluate achievements and set new targets.

In terms of emerging technologies, businesses can consider the following:

  • Self-Assessment Questionnaires: These questionnaires, although more labour-intensive, can help gather information from suppliers regarding their compliance with modern slavery regulations.
  • Snapshot tools: These tools provide a snapshot of the supply chain's current accreditation position, allowing businesses to identify potential areas of concern and prioritise actions.
  • Emissions tools: Tools that map the supply chain's greenhouse gas emissions (S1, S2, S3) can provide insights into the environmental impact of the chain and suggest actions to reduce emissions.

Supply chain mapping can be complex, particularly for multinational companies with vast networks. How can businesses approach supply chain mapping effectively, and what are the key benefits for organisations in understanding their supply chain holistically?

SE: When it comes to supply chain mapping, especially for multinational companies with extensive networks, businesses can take the following approach to ensure effectiveness:

  1. Start with Direct-to-Source Approach: Rather than relying solely on trading companies or intermediaries, businesses should aim to establish direct relationships with their suppliers. This allows for greater transparency and control over the supply chain.
  2. Consider CSR-ESG Accreditations and Policies: Integrating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors into supply chain mapping is crucial. This involves assessing suppliers based on their adherence to sustainable practices, ethical standards, and environmental impact.
  3. Address Scope 1 Emissions: Scope 1 emissions refer to direct greenhouse gas emissions from a company's operations. Businesses need to evaluate and track their own emissions to understand the environmental impact within their supply chain.
  4. Establish In-House Policies and Code of Conduct: Implementing robust in-house policies and a clear code of conduct is essential. This ensures that all employees and suppliers understand and follow ethical and responsible practices throughout the supply chain.
  5. Engage the Supply Chain: Actively engaging with suppliers is vital for effective supply chain mapping. Businesses should initially focus on suppliers who lack accreditations or certifications, as it could indicate potential risks or issues. This engagement process helps in understanding supplier practices and addressing any concerns.
  6. Perform Geographical Mapping: Geographical mapping involves identifying the locations and countries where suppliers operate. This allows businesses to assess the potential environmental and social risks associated with each location.
  7. Implement CSR Accreditations: Encouraging and supporting suppliers to obtain CSR accreditations can lead to a more sustainable supply chain. It ensures that suppliers align with recognised standards and best practices.
  8. Set the Stage for Scope 3 Emissions Reporting: Scope 3 emissions refer to indirect greenhouse gas emissions that occur throughout the entire supply chain. By establishing a strong foundation in supply chain mapping and addressing Scope 1 emissions, businesses can work towards comprehensive reporting and management of Scope 3 emissions.

By effectively mapping their supply chain, businesses can reap several key benefits:

  1. Improved Margin and Quality: Understanding the supply chain holistically helps identify areas for cost optimisation and quality enhancement. It enables businesses to make informed decisions regarding sourcing, production, and distribution.
  2. Direct Communication with Source: Establishing direct relationships with suppliers fosters better communication, collaboration, and transparency. This minimises the risk of miscommunication or misunderstandings within the supply chain.
  3. Measuring Current Position and Reporting Progress: Supply chain mapping allows businesses to measure their current performance and track improvements over time. This data can be used for internal reporting, external disclosures, and showcasing sustainability efforts to stakeholders.
  4. Preferred Supplier Status: Being able to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the supply chain and adherence to CSR and ESG standards can position a business as a preferred supplier to key reporting entities. This enhances market competitiveness and opens doors to new business opportunities.
  5. Market Positioning as an ESG-Conscious Supplier: Having a well-mapped and sustainable supply chain allows businesses to market themselves as ESG-conscious and potentially carbon-neutral suppliers. This appeals to customers who prioritise responsible sourcing and sustainability.
  6. Compliance with Mandatory Requirements: In some cases, compliance with CSR accreditations and sustainable supply chain practices is becoming mandatory, particularly when supplying to government entities. Businesses that proactively address these requirements stay ahead of regulatory changes and avoid potential penalties or disruptions.

Supply chains can be vulnerable to various risks and ethical concerns. Apart from addressing human exploitation, what are some other critical social and ethical challenges that businesses should be aware of in their supply chains? How can companies effectively mitigate these risks and promote responsible practices?

SE: Businesses should be aware of several critical social and ethical challenges in their supply chains. These challenges include:

  1. Greenwashing: Businesses should be conscious of greenwashing, which refers to making false or exaggerated claims about environmental or sustainability practices. Brand integrity is hard to build and EASY to destroy. Companies must ensure that their sustainability claims are genuine and supported by concrete actions.
  2. Comparative Pricing Beyond Monetary Value: Apart from considering the monetary value, businesses should also assess the social and environmental costs associated with their supply chains. This involves evaluating factors such as labour conditions, worker rights, environmental impact, and community well-being. Comparing prices based on these broader criteria can help identify potential ethical concerns.

To effectively mitigate these risks and promote responsible practices, companies can take the following actions:

  1. Stipulate Accredited Sources and Manufacturing Locations: Companies should clearly state in their Code of Conduct and purchase order contracts that products must come from accredited sources. Additionally, specifying the manufacturing location ensures transparency and accountability within the supply chain.
  2. Include Unannounced Audit Clauses: Including unannounced audit clauses in contracts enables companies to conduct surprise inspections and assessments of suppliers' practices. These audits help identify any violations or non-compliance with ethical standards and encourage suppliers to maintain responsible practices consistently.
  3. Maintain Regular Engagement and Visits: Companies should stay actively engaged with their suppliers and encourage reciprocal visits. Regular communication and in-person visits foster better relationships, provide opportunities for knowledge exchange, and allow companies to monitor supplier practices and conditions firsthand.
  4. Establish Buying Consortiums: Collaborating with other companies in the industry to establish buying consortiums can be beneficial. Sharing accreditation details and leveraging collective buying power increases the influence and impact of responsible sourcing initiatives. This approach also encourages suppliers to meet higher ethical standards.
  5. Backward Integration into Raw Materials: To have better control over the supply chain, companies can consider backward integration by sourcing from lower-tier suppliers or raw material producers. This allows for closer monitoring of practices and enables companies to apply the aforementioned measures at multiple levels within the supply chain.


Stephen, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for sharing your expertise and insights throughout this three-part series. Our conversations have covered a wide range of topics, from ESG principles to traceability, transparency, and the critical social and ethical challenges in supply chains. By exploring these areas, we hope to have provided our readers with a deeper understanding of the complexities and importance of ESG compliance in creating profitable and responsible supply chains. 

We encourage everyone to revisit Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven't already done so. Thank you for joining us throughout this series, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue on ESG and supply chain sustainability in the future.

To learn more about Trace SCI and continue exploring ESG compliance, I encourage readers to connect with Stephen directly. 


M: +61 434 420 960




Author Bio

Andy Rootes is a Director of Numeric Eight and is responsible for growing both Numeric Eight’s client base and developing strategic business partnerships.

Before joining Numeric Eight, Andy had many years’ experience of managing sales and partner/reseller organisations in the software technology sector in the UK, Australia, NZ and more recently across the Asia Pacific Region. He is an avid networker, focused on excellent outcomes for clients and partners alike.


About Trace Supply Chain Intelligence / Stephen Early

With a focus on turning compliance into a profit centre rather than a cost centre, Trace SCI offers supply chain intelligence that provides traceability, transparency of suppliers, and establishes direct-to-source relationships to achieve significant savings. By going beyond compliance, Trace SCI helps businesses meet short-term obligations like the Modern Slavery Act 2018 and achieve long-term Environmental Social Governance (ESG) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) outcomes.

Trace SCI works with companies to assess their supply chain diversification potential and provide legacy frameworks related to risk and supply chain diversification, in conjunction with ongoing product quality and supplier performance.

Connect with Stephen on LinkedIn.


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