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How E-commerce Businesses Can Find Ethical Suppliers

10 June 2022 • 6 min read

As e-commerce grows, so too does the public’s interest in ethical consumption. Customers are beginning to ask questions about where their items were made and if they were made in a way that exploits communities or negatively impacts the environment. To meet customer desires, online businesses have to consider if they source from ethical suppliers.

Ensuring that your e-commerce business operates as ethically as possible can be challenging. Even if ethical operations are your top priority, not all of the companies you work with will be as transparent about their own activities.

However, you’re only as ethical as the other businesses you work with. If a supplier regularly exploits laborers or damages the environment, that will reflect on your business. To maintain a successful e-commerce business, it’s crucial to work with suppliers and organizations who share the same values that you do.

So, how do you ensure your business works with ethical suppliers?

1. Ask tough questions

When you are trying to choose suppliers, make sure you ask them the tough questions that will help you to determine if they are truly ethical. Some examples of questions you might want to ask include:

Pay close attention to how they respond to these questions. If a supplier’s answers don’t align with your values, they may not be the best organization to work with. If someone is vague or tries to avoid an upfront answer, that may also be a sign they aren’t committed to ethical practices.

In addition to vetting potential partners, these questions can help get a larger conversation going with suppliers who you’re interested in working with. This can help you develop a partnership that works well for both of you.

2. Ensure proper communication

First and foremost, establish direct and open communication with prospective suppliers. You may be operating in a business-to-business setting, but as a customer of this company, you should communicate accordingly. This means being upfront about what you need and want from suppliers to make your relationship work.

Explain exactly what ethical standards you expect them to meet, how to discuss issues or shortcomings, and methods of accountability. Both parties need to live up to the standards that you discuss and agree upon. If you choose to work with a supplier, put all of this information in writing, so you can reference it later if an issue arises.

If a supplier isn’t communicative during these initial conversations, that doesn’t mean they’re inherently unethical or misaligned with your values. However, that lack of communication may indicate deeper problems and make it more difficult to work through any challenges that do crop up in the future.

Communicative suppliers won’t be afraid to answer any of your questions, acknowledge areas where you disagree, and come to an agreement on best practices for your working relationship. They bring a different level of transparency to their work that can make it significantly easier to ethical challenges of running an e-commerce business.

3. Be transparent

In the era of conscious consumerism, transparency is essential. Customers want to know that their dollars are going towards businesses that are doing good for society. This means you need to inform your customers about what your company is doing to minimize negative (and maximize positive) impacts your operations may have on the world.

Keep in mind that companies that aren’t transparent, or that claim to be but aren’t, are quickly exposed, which can lead to real reputational damage. This can ultimately jeopardize relationships with governments, regulators, investors, and other key stakeholders.

Transparency is all about communication — communication with your employees, with other organizations, and with your customers. There are many ways to improve transparency in your business and supply chain, such as:

It’s crucial to determine what transparency looks like for your organization, as what works for someone else won’t work for you. Use whatever channels you have available — such as your company website, social media profiles, and digital PR materials — to promote these messages and reinforce your own approach to ethics.

Being transparent yourself can make it easier to find ethical suppliers. If an organization also values supply chain transparency, they may be more motivated to seek out and work with businesses, like yours, that are open and honest about their practices, policies, and protocols.

You can also use your criteria for transparency to evaluate potential partners and suppliers. If you know what you’re looking for, it will be far easier to know which organizations meet your standards and which don’t.

The benefits of ethical suppliers for your business

Taking the extra time to evaluate potential suppliers will be well worth it in the end. You will see many benefits for your e-commerce business, such as:

To enjoy these benefits, you have to build an ethical supply chain and do your best to cultivate relationships with suppliers who are committed to the same values and practices as your organization.