Getting the cobalt out of your pillows

If you happened to be a pillow manufacturer and read this week’s Washington Post article on the cobalt miners in Congo, you were probably smugly thinking: Not my problem – cobalt is used in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

Chances are good, cobalt is not your problem. Chances are also good that you don’t know exactly what is in your product – whatever that is. The reason: few companies, especially outside certain industries like food and beverage and beauty and personal care, bother to really learn about the environmental and social impacts of their supply chains.  

Consumer demand has largely been to blame. It’s driven corporate transparency over the years, and most companies know that busy, cash-strapped customers are still, as a Guardian Sustainable Business panel put it, “apathetic when it comes to investigating deep into a company’s supply chain.” For that reason, most businesses have typically waited until a major scandal erupts before springing into action.

That is changing though, with ever-rising consumer interest in socially-responsible companies, and their particular interest in transparency – driven by severe consumer distrust of corporations. Busy consumers are also demanding that brands be held responsible for showing what’s in their products and how they are made. Changes in technology continue to enable companies to track – and consumers to find – more data about the origins of their products too.

For all these reasons, more and more CEO’s are looking beyond risk mitigation and embracing a “hyper-transparency” that can lead to better collaboration, organizational learning, innovation and other benefits. Knowing which information is important, and how best to present it, is still critical – both to consumers and businesses.

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