Clients want to protect themselves
Since companies are responsible for ensuring that they and their suppliers do not violate human rights, biodiversity and the environment, they want to cover themselves. They will therefore approach you with the following or similar questions and ask for self-disclosure:
- Do you pay minimum wage?
- Do you pay the same salary to men and women?
- Is there any kind of forced labour in your company?
- What are the weekly working hours?
- What is the ratio of freelancers to permanent employees?
- Works council - yes or no?
- Are there dangerous machines in your company?
- Do you work with hazardous substances or substances that can affect the health of employees?
- Are forests cut down for production in your company?
- Does your production process generate environmental toxins?
- What do you do for an ecological energy supply?
- How high is the recycling rate of the products you process?
- Do you buy products from China?
Printers should set limits on self-disclosure
But beware: to be on the safe side, companies sometimes overshoot the mark and may ask for too many details. As a printing company, you should therefore know which information is relevant and which questions go too far. This is the only way to set limits. You should be careful with questions like "Can you guarantee that your products are produced without human rights violations?" or questions that touch on trade secrets. There will certainly be a lot of argument about what constitutes a trade secret.
Official certifications such as ISO 9001, which test according to a fixed scheme, or the ecovadis sustainability rating are helpful. Documentation of CO2 footprint or documented quality management are also useful.
Questions must be appropriate, proportionate and effective
If a questionnaire must be filled out, questions that are uncomfortable can be answered very briefly. However, you can also try to return your own questionnaires. In any case, keep in mind whether the questions are appropriate, proportionate and effective. In business relations with large Chinese corporations, for example, it would be presumptuous to expect that demands for local standards from small European printing companies would find immediate acceptance in Asia. The proportionality is not right here.
But don't worry: if you don't meet the expectations of the company placing the order, the business relationship is not usually terminated immediately. Rather, the proposed legislation aims at entering into dialogue and achieving step-by-step improvements together. Incidentally, this also applies to relations with China.
This is how the publishing house Cornelsen regulates supply chain care
Eva Bordemann, strategic buyer at the German publishing house Cornelsen Verlag, discussed in a webinar of the German Printing and Media Industries Federation (BVDM) how her company is addressing the issue of supply chain care. In 2019, Cornelsen developed a questionnaire on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability, which has been in use since 2020. "Our supplier companies have reacted neutrally to positively to the questionnaire," she says.
The publishing house sends out the self-disclosure questionnaire regularly; it is part of supplier management and a basic requirement for the qualification of new suppliers. So as a printer you have to expect such questionnaires especially for new business and new partnerships.