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Bon Appétit: “Should customers always get what they want?”

METRO event on Responsible Supply Chains in Brussels 22/01/2018

On 22nd January, METRO’s EU Affairs Team hosted a lunch discussion in “Senza Parole” in Brussels, one of our MCC Belgium customers.

The topic of today's "Bon Appetit" in Brussels was “Responsible Supply Chain Management: Transparent, efficient and sustainable”. Panelists were Patrick Dittli, METRO’s Global Director for Supply Chain Management, Sanne van der Wal from the Centre for Research on Multinational Companies (SOMO) and Toine Timmermans from Wageningen University.

The lunch discussion, attended by almost 30 participants from the European institutions and the retail and wholesale sector, was part of the series of events “Bon Appétit”, where our company experts discuss with other stakeholder on topics of high relevance not only for businesses, but for the society as a whole.

What does Responsible Supply Chain Management exactly mean?

Sustainability, social standards, logistics, food waste, market power and relations along the value chain…all these issues are interlinked and were addressed during the discussion. A responsible supply chain must ensure that consumers are provided with a wide variety of healthy and safe products, which are produced and distributed according to social and environmental standards. Beyond a simplistic conception of a supply chain divided in just three stages (i.e. producers-retailers/wholesalers-consumers), relationships between the different actors along the supply chain are far more complex. The supply chain does not look like a sand clock with a high market concentration in just one point. Indeed, actors tend to organize themselves at different levels (production, distribution, sales) to improve their positions.

All actors carry responsibility

Therefore, all actors (from producers and distributors to retailers and wholesalers) carry certain responsibility, when it comes to issues such as transparency, due diligence and compliance with sustainability standards.

Consumers are also part of the picture

Responsible consumption and behavioural change are crucial to pave the way for future business and political decisions. One example is food waste reduction, in which all actors (business, consumers and regulators) need to pull in the same direction. ”Or shall we really need to regulate what consumers should eat and when?”

Voluntary or regulatory?

A much-debated topic was whether the best solution to tackle these issues is voluntary or regulatory approaches. Today, there is a mixture of voluntary schemes (such as the Supply Chain Initiative) and regulation, for example, the obligation for reporting of non-financial information. What is clear is that legislation per se will not solve the problem, unless this is well designed to also include the best results of voluntary initiatives.

The "elephant in the room"

The discussion also touched upon the “elephant in the room”, this is, Unfair Trading Practices (UTPs) in the food supply chain. From the retail sector, it was argued that today, there is neither a clear definition of UTPs nor evidence that such alleged UTPs are distorting the correct functioning of the single market. Moreover, legislation in this field could lead to higher market concentration and undermine current national frameworks. Therefore, voluntary initiatives for fair relations can better adapt to local conditions and needs.

The discussion concluded over Italian coffee and the invitation to our next Bon Appétit later this year. Thank you everyone for your participation!

Clara Salarich-Ortega

Information about the author

Clara Salarich-Ortega works as Manager EU Affairs in the Representative Office of METRO AG in Brussels clara.salarich@metro.de