OS Hub gears up to become 'central hub of info' for supply chains
Opening supply chain data is the essential starting point to combat issues like deforestation, child and forced labour: Katie Shaw
In June this year, Open Supply Hub (OS Hub) launched its beta phase with an aim to enable more transparency in supply chains the world over.
Starting off as Open Apparel Registry (OAR) in 2019, the non-profit had solely focused on the apparel sector. As it transitions to OS Hub later this year, the non-profit aims to expand its core focus to permeate into and include more industries. Boasting of clients like Amazon and Target OS Hub targets tackling problematic areas rife within global supply chains, including issues of human rights and environmental issues and aspiring to become a "central source of truth" in terms of supply chain data for companies across the globe.
The STAT Trade Times caught up with Katie Shaw, OS Hub's Chief Programme Officer, on what lies ahead for OS Hub and the state of global supply chains today.
How does the lack of open and standardised data in the global supply chain contribute to issues such as forced and child labour, increased GHG emissions and deforestation?
The approach that we take with OS Hub begins with identifying where global production facilities are located. Put simply, if there is no clear understanding of where production facilities are located, then there's definitely no sense of what the social and environmental conditions at those facilities are like. If we start by mapping where those facilities are in an open manner, it brings what is otherwise an incredibly complex and opaque system out of the shadows and effectively shines a spotlight on global supply chains. The reason that issues like deforestation, child and forced labour are, in part, so prevalent and able to remain so is because they're operating in the shadows. We believe that opening supply chain data is the essential starting point to combat those issues. Understanding which organisations are connected to global production facilities enables those different organisations to work collaboratively on improvements.
OS Hub aims to become the central source of truth when it comes to open data. Can you comment a little about the overarching aim of the company and how you aspire to fulfil that?
We're expanding the Open Apparel Registry (OAR) and becoming Open Supply Hub, but our overarching aim with this work remains the same: global supply chains are complex and opaque and, from a data perspective, one of the biggest problems is that the data is locked away in all sorts of different databases or shared in non-machine readable formats. If data is locked away and cannot be downloaded, then no one is able to work in a systematic and programmatic way to exchange information between different datasets. Instead, OS Hub will open those datasets to create a central hub of information that anyone can access, search, contribute and download data from for free. We allocate unique IDs to every facility in the database. The ID is really powerful for enabling interoperability between different datasets as it eliminates all sorts of confusion – although, crucially, it does not replace existing ID schemes. To date, we've mapped over 90,0000 facilities in 133 different countries, with data contributed by over 500 different organizations.
Is there any kind of process in place to assign these IDs?
Organisations across different sectors contribute data to our tool. Those organisations can be anything from major global brands and retailers to civil society organisations, certification schemes, multi-stakeholder initiatives, service providers, factory groups and more. Every line of data contributed to OS Hub gets processed by a sophisticated deduplication algorithm in the backend of our system, which is looking to establish whether or not that facility already exists in the database. It's based on a statistical model and looks for similarities in the names and addresses of every facility. Whenever the algorithm recognises that the same facility has been contributed, the user is notified of a match. The user then sees the unique ID that has been allocated to that facility and can access the information that's been contributed to that facility by everyone.
The unique IDs have a particular structure that they take. The first two digits are a country code, then there is a set of numbers of the day that the facility first appeared in the database. Following this, there's a random set of letters and a check ID at the end, similar to the last three digits on the back of a credit card, which is randomly generated. The IDs have been structured to ensure we don't generate the same IDs for multiple facilities.
You have Amazon and Target on board. How did OS Hub convince them to disclose their supplier lists? Basically, how do you build trust within this industry and scale it up?
Key to building trust in our organisation and the approach we take to our work has been our position as a "neutral" entity that exists for the benefit of all stakeholders – brand and retailers, civil society and factory groups alike. We do that in a variety of different ways, including through establishing ourselves as a non-profit organisation – a 501(c)3 registered in the USA – and our multi-stakeholder Board, which includes representation from brand and retailers, civil society, factory groups, MSIs and the open data community. Making our data open and freely accessible to all is a key part of this, too.
In establishing the OAR, one key reason for our governance structure (not for profit) was to ensure that we were a neutral organisation that exists for the benefit of all stakeholders within the sector would be really crucial to establishing that trust.
What was the impact of the pandemic on global supply chains?
The pandemic sent enormous shockwaves through multiple different supply chains. It raised awareness of the weaknesses of 'just-in-time' manufacturing and the exposure of organisations that were especially dependent on one region for their sourcing needs. It's also been an extraordinary, unprecedented moment in time in multiple different ways. When I consider the impact of the pandemic on the apparel sector, in particular, it revealed the power imbalances across global supply chains.
We're seeing changes with brands who are assessing their exposure to risk in terms of the global spread of their supply chain and considering near-shoring their supply chain base. There is also a skills shortage coming pretty quickly down the track, especially in the luxury segment.
OSH is actively building partnerships with global worker organisations and other groups in the Global South. Can you comment on this?
Historically when we first launched OAR, the majority of data contributions were from organisations in North America, Europe and the UK. However, when we think about where the majority of global production happens, it's not those places. We feel really strongly about the need to engage with people in their local context, bearing in mind different cultural sensitivities, even speaking their language. We do that in a few different ways – one of them being that we work with different organisations on the ground to help raise awareness and get the tool and the data into the hands of people who are working right at the forefront of all of these changes. We're also hiring in-country Community Managers to represent us in key regions. We already have brilliant managers in Turkey and India, and we're recruiting in Bangladesh and Vietnam at the moment. We anticipate continuing to grow this part of our team over time.
Currently, there is no set global framework for ESG standardisation. Would some kind of global regulatory mechanism help standardise this?
Globally, parallel initiatives on ESG regulation are taking place. There is a clear role that OS Hub can play in helping meet these requirements and in the standardisation of reporting. Firstly, the data that's being reported must be built on a reliable foundation. Our desire is that this data be reported in line with open-data principles to enable equitable access to that data which, in turn, allows greater volumes of people and organisations to work on a very practical level with the data. The other really important aspect is standardisation. If there's no agreed mechanism or taxonomy for how to report on that data, it simply won't work. We talk a lot about the need to drive consensus in the way that data is being shared and reported.
Let's talk about data collaboration. OS Hub aims to boost data collaboration for organisations that are looking to work collaboratively with some kind of overarching regulatory framework. How important is data collaboration in this context? Would some kind of government-driven mechanism enable data collaboration?
At the moment, a lot of data sharing is done voluntarily by more progressive organisations that aren't hung up on the idea that their supply chain data is their proprietary information. These organisations, particularly in apparel, have been sharing that data as a route to enabling collaboration for a while. The really important thing to emphasise is that the sharing of data isn't the end in itself; rather, it's the mechanism by which you can enable collaboration. So if there is no data, people have nothing to work with. That's why it's so important to think through things like standardisation and open data because once it gets into the hands of people, they can then go on to think through what collaboration looks like at the facility level. We've seen many progressive organisations sharing supply chain data for some time now. Once ESG reporting legislation kicks into gear, everyone else will need to catch up. This creates a level-playing field because what can lead to the downfall of multistakeholder initiatives is that they get reduced to the practices of the least progressive organisation in the room as a route to building consensus. In comparison, legislation raises that bar and equals the playing field. This is a good thing, as it means everyone needs to comply with the same set of legislation, so no one is exposed to greater or lesser risk.
What does OS Hub's future blueprint look like?
We're currently in the beta phase for OS Hub. We're inviting organisations to come on board if they are interested in contributing data to the registry and testing out the tool's functionality. We'll then be launching the platform in late 2022.
Longer term, we're excited to explore adding additional data points to facility profiles, such as the percentage of male or female workers at facilities, what social or environmental improvement programmes are being run at a facility and more. In the future, this could expand to tracking environmental data points, such as water use, energy consumption or carbon emissions – the latter will be key to helping avoid double-counting in the reporting of Scope III emissions reductions.
We're hearing a lot of interest in mapping commodities supply chains, too, such as palm oil, cocoa, wood fibre, soy and cotton – it's at this level that issues such as deforestation are most prevalent.