Ten years ago when Starbucks China hosted its first suppliers summit there were just 10 people present.
This year, more than 350 supplier representatives were in Shenzhen to hear the coffee giant’s pitch to join its commitment for a sustainable, ethical supply chain.
“We studied the leadership position we were taking to get high-quality coffee,” said Kelly Goodejohn, director, Starbucks ethical sourcing. “We wanted to build something similar for other products that we source.”
Similar to coffee, Starbucks wanted to understand where manufactured goods were sourced, how farmers and workers were being treated and the impact the suppliers were having in local communities. The summit served as a starting point to gain more of this knowledge, no matter what the products being sourced are.
“It was an awareness opportunity,” said Goodejohn. “What we found was that many of our suppliers shared our values, wanted to do more for their employees and communities, but didn’t know how to do it.”
The 10th Annual Supplier Summit this week featured Starbucks leaders, representatives of nonprofits and industry experts. During the event, Starbucks shared key company initiatives, discussed global responsibility goals and provided tools and resources to help suppliers improve business practices.
Back in 2006, at that first summit, one of Starbucks goals was to cultivate a stronger rapport with suppliers.
“Building authentic relationships with our suppliers was important as well as working with them to make improvements,” said Goodejohn. “Over time, we have worked with our suppliers in China to improve labor and environmental performance to enable higher overall performance, so they are positioned to grow with Starbucks as our business grows.”
At first, not all suppliers were willing to take Starbucks at face value.
“It was difficult to build trust, but we got there,” said Goodejohn. “While some suppliers moved on, the majority were willing to work with us and are still our suppliers today.”
Starbucks has worked with suppliers to improve worker health and safety, ensure employees get paid a fair wage, provide better living conditions at factory dormitories and confirm that products are made without emitting dangerous chemicals to protect water and air.
Three years ago, Starbucks incorporated community service into the supplier summit to highlight an important aspect of the company’s mission.
On Wednesday, suppliers, Starbucks partners (employees) and customers convened for a beautification and career development service project at the Shiao Community and the Young Dream Center in Shenzhen. The project is one of many that the company will engage in during its Global Month of Service that takes place throughout the month.
As a way to support suppliers on the ground year-round, Starbucks hired two field managers in China to help implement best practices related to social and environmental performance. They teach factory managers and work on continuous improvement with suppliers.
“I’m immensely proud of what we’ve done and the partners who are elevating ethical sourcing with suppliers on a regular basis,” said Goodejohn.
“We have many countries that manufacture goods for us and we can bring the learnings from China to other regions. We have the right momentum and we will keep moving.”