Ethical Modelling of The Food Supply Chain

Ethical Modelling of The Food Supply Chain

A Review of Manning, Baines, & Chadd’s Article.

Potential Interest/Intent

There is a strange paradox that seems to take place when discussing the necessity for ethical supply chains. On the one hand the capitalist world seeks to drive down prices and find the best deals possible, yet on the other hand the democratic free world desires to create ethical labor, working conditions, that reflect the values of their consumers. However, there is a problem with this thinking as it places restrictions against businesses that supply commodities thereby raising rates for the consumer. But this is just one of many issues involving the creation of ethical supply lines.

Another major issue involves the broad scope of ethical supply lines which seems to encompass everything from labor management to deforestation of the rain forests. This raises many questions of an ethnocentric and sociocentric nature. Whose ethics are being applied? Obviously the buyer’s, but how are these ethics being enforced? This brings in another problem with the creation of ethical supply chains, transparency of the business. There must be a great deal of corporate transparency otherwise the consumer has no idea whether or not the ethical supply chain even exists beyond a stamp on a product.

Anyone concerned with environmental conservation, stewardship, and ethics of food supply would benefit from the evaluation of ethic’s decision making models presented in this article. A critical differentiation is presented between qualitative and quantitative ethics models.

Important Points/Arguments

“Legislation defines governmental policy but it does not define what is “good” or “right” and this is the role of ethics. A number of models have been analyzed, and the ethical significance screening model developed as a result of this study is a useful mechanism for ranking an organization’s ethical aspects and prioritizing the ethical impacts which need to be formally managed. Ethical policy should seek to addresses the requirements of a number of supply chain stakeholders including the consumer.”

In simplistic terms, this article points out the obvious problem of ethical definition and how law or policy might define ethics these ethics lack a basis for what is right or wrong. The differentiation between quality ethics and quantitative ethics is shown through a system of risk management or scientific approach to measuring ethics of a food supply chain. The measure of risk then becomes the determining factor as to whether a particular food chain is in ethical compliance. The criteria of risk being measured include such things as catastrophic potential, familiarity, geographic conditions, etc…(Manning, Baines, & Chadd, 2006)

Albeit this system of ethical assessment seems scientific and objective, it begins in an assumption that ethics have a utilitarian measure. This assumption denies the existence that ethics could be duty bound or that they are a reflection of human rights. This still creates a problem of ethical basis. For instance, “the measuring of dread” is obviously subjective and is not a moral concern to every society. This subjectivity does not solve the problem of measuring the good or bad of ethical concerns or models.

Relationship to business ethics and social responsibility.

The goal of business is to make money and while that goal is not absolute in that it should be achieved at any cost, it does however take the forefront of corporate thinking. Companies typically purchase their products via suppliers without questioning the methodology or business practice of the supplier. However, in the case of ethical supply creation companies are forced to place restrictions on suppliers that they normally would not engage. This practice is at its core questionable since it invokes an attitude of ethical relativism. As well, the practice creates complex social issues that could potentially lead to problems. For instance, requiring a supplier to pay certain wages that are above normal for the supplying country can be seen as a questionable moral practice. In specific, because of the nature of business, should a supplier agree to this on the condition of elevating its costs what is to keep the buyer from seeking another supplier who claims the same condition but for a lower cost? Essentially the buyer is controlling the market in a way that promotes unsustainable prices for smaller companies since large corporations have greater degrees of price control (Collinson, 2001).

There are also issues that are ethically relative and become even more complex. For instance, telling a coffee supplier in a country like Peru to stop using child labor is very narrow sighted on the part of the buyer. Most coffee growers in Peru are not directly part of a corporate structure but are instead small farmers who sell their beans to exporters. The farming groups are often comprised of families where children as young as 12 work the fields. In a country like Peru these children assist with the family farming and their labor is a necessary component and part of their heritage.* These farmers could not afford to pay other people to do the work that their family provides. As well, placing rules on people in this manner is extremely biased. The people of Peru do not view this as abuse to children or taking advantage of them. They are simply training their children to one day continue the business. So in many instances the creation of ethical supply lines can be destructive to cultural heritage and damaging to family business (Mazar, & Zhong, 2009).

These complex ethical issues go to the core of supply chain management and social autonomy. How can a country like England or the US expect smaller countries to pay workers minimum wages and when their economies are not capable of supporting this type of equal ethical thinking? Any form of ethical modeling undermines the autonomy and in many cases the free market of the developing world.

Follow-up opportunities.

Although I disagree with this articles view of qualifying ethical supply chains through risk management approaches, I do however see the method as worthy of continued research. The reasoning is that the approach works so long as the company being assessed is given the autonomy to choose this method. This is a difficult area of corporate value, in that the company requiring the installation of the model is always at the advantage and this raises the question of coercion. Simply speaking any ethical model, in order to not be relative, must be a choice of the company using this tool of measure.

*From Equal Exchange, Peruvian coffee farming, coffee farmers are family oriented groups. They do not work for large corporations and the process of farming involves the entire family. Children and adults work together to cultivate this crop.


Collinson, C. (2001). The Business costs of ethical supply chain management: south african wine industry case study. Natural Resources Institute, 128(2606), Retrieved from

Manning, L., Baines, R. N., & Chadd, S. A. (2006). Ethical modelling of the food supply chain. British Food Journal, 108(5), 358.

Mazar, N, & Zhong, C. (2009). Do green products make us better people? Psychological Science, 62(321), 23–38.

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