The Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative and ETI show how competitors can collaborate
While B2G cooperation is crucial, this can only be achieved through effective partnerships between businesses, often those in direct competition with each other. The various initiatives, platforms and coalitions must enable their members to collaborate fully towards social goals, balanced against the business reality that they compete on an everyday basis.
“Forward-looking business leaders need to be working with sector peers and stakeholders to map their collective route to a sustainable competitive playing field,” says Mark Malloch-Brown, chair of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission. “Which is why the commission calls for companies to come together to create and adhere to sector roadmaps for achieving the Global Goals.”
AstraZeneca’s Andy Rayment believes that the scope of the SDGs is so broad that no single type of organisation can achieve much impact acting alone.
Rayment is communications lead at the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative (PSCI), a group of pharmaceutical and healthcare companies that have joined together to share knowledge and expertise and promote responsible supply chain management and better business conditions across the industry.
“Each organisation type has a set of capabilities, tools and processes that can be brought together to influence and drive change, delivering more together than they can in their own right,” Rayment explains.
PSCI is one of numerous global initiatives, multi-industry platforms and business coalitions that promote knowledge-sharing and collaboration to drive the sustainability agenda. Another is the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), which represents 40 of the world’s leading ICT providers and vendors.
Luis Neves, chairman of the GeSI, believes that governments do not fully realise the full potential of ICT and digitisation to transform and accelerate progress. “For the ICT sector, it will be important to clearly communicate about our technology’s potential in supporting the achievement of the SDGs,” he says. GeSI’s #SystemTransformation report, launched at the end of 2016, says that digital solutions are indispensable to achieve all 17 SDGs and more than 50% of the 169 targets.
Among other findings, the report also concludes that ICT will bring e-healthcare to 1.6 billion people (SDG 3.8); save 720,000 lives and prevent 30 million injuries on the world’s roads (SDG 3.6); and enable $9trn of revenues and cost savings to be realised (SDG 8.1).
But how do you marshal the combined strength of whole sectors without introducing risks of collusion or trade secrets leaking between competitors? PSCI uses an independent secretariat to facilitate collaboration while ensuring that no commercially sensitive information is shared among its members. This, says Rayment, has proven effective in the past, for example allowing PSCI to identify overlap in the supply chain without disclosing which company buys from which suppliers.
“How we work with suppliers to assist their understanding and improve conditions for people, the environment and world is not a trade secret,” explains Rayment. “These are strategies that have been employed by many other organisations. We work together in areas of common interest which make good business sense and are not competitive.”
To reduce the risk that collaboration will be seen as cartel-type behaviour – for the benefit of the industry at the expense of consumers – PSCI has a number of protocols in place to prevent any anti-trust violations. “The purpose of our activities is to drive improvement in the supply chain to benefit workers, communities and the environment,” says Rayment.
GeSi has not identified any particular competition issues either. “As a global association based in Belgium, we have strict anti-trust legislation to comply with,” says Neves. “This enables us to operate by providing our members with a platform for collaboration without touching on competition aspects.” Unlikely other industry sector associations, GeSI’s work is based on communication and awareness-raising. It has a number of non-industry partners, including from academia, NGOs and intergovernmental organisations.
“Our collaborative platform is larger than industry-only actors,” says Neves. “Almost all the research we produce is freely available to the general public, and focused on demonstrating the sustainability benefits that ICT can potentially bring to everyone, including consumers. Most of this research simply wouldn’t have been possible for a single company to produce.”
Ben Rutledge, senior advisor for business and human rights at the Ethical Trading Initiative, says there are very few risks from collaborating with competitors if parties work together in an honest and open manner, and potentially commercially sensitive information such as supply chain data is protected and managed appropriately. “We see successful multi-stakeholder engagement every day in our programme groups,” he explains. “Companies may be competitors on the high street, but they have common interests and shared responsibilities in terms of mitigating human rights risks to vulnerable workers in key supply chains.”
This article is part of our in-depth briefing on how business is navigating the new B2G environment. See also Business called to top table to deliver SDGs, Why it pays to go Dutch with suppliers, and Collaborating with governments in the cocoa sector.
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