Sedex Conference 2018 Summary

The Sedex Conference 2018 took place on the 13th – 14th March in London’s financial district at The Brewery. The event brought together world-leaders in sustainability to discuss the various ways in which we can go ‘beyond compliance’, through practical examples, panel sessions and debates.


Martine Croxall, BBC Presenter and Journalist, opened the conference and welcomed delegates from over 40 countries, including hundreds of online webcast attendees, to hear from experts on a range of key topics around the theme ‘Impact Through Leadership. Defining ‘Beyond Compliance’ in Responsible Sourcing’.

From discussing the future of impact measurement, to leadership skills, to forced labour, and technology innovation – the conference agenda covered the most relevant topics in responsible sourcing and supply chains. Delegates from hundreds of organisations listened to and engaged with a range of speakers from companies including APSCA. &Wider, Co-op, DNV GL, ELEVATE, Emerging Leaders, Ergon, Ethical Apparel Africa, Philips, Proctor and Gamble, Ulula, Walmart, and West Principles, as well as world-leading academics in this field.

The CEO of Sedex, Jonathan Ivelaw-Chapman then took to the floor to firstly review the difference a year has made since the last Sedex Conference – with many global issues in a worse state. Jonathan discussed how all too often, businesses are simply meeting objectives and standards, rather than striving to go beyond them which would help make organisations perform better socially, environmentally and financially.


A selection of the key themes covered at the Sedex Conference 2018 included:

  • Dr Sally Uren OBE, the Chief Executive of Forum for the Future, opening keynote discussed how trends and systems interact in order to influence society. Changes to systems included insightful discussion on citizen innovation, shifting retail and consumption, and changes in technology including blockchain development.
  • Tom Smith, the Director of Stakeholder Strategy for Walmart, gave the second keynote speech which discussed ‘Trust’ within responsible supply chains. Throughout the session, Tom analysed why and how consumers begin to trust companies, whilst navigating through what he described as a VUCA world – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous.
  • Martine Croxall moderated a lively panel discussion on ‘Defining beyond compliance – what does this mean to you?’, which included key points from Wesley Wilson as well as academics, Professor Steve Evans from Cambridge University, and Genevieve LeBaron from the University of Sheffield. During the discussion, Avedis Seferian re-iterated the point that “you do not fatten a pig by weighing it” – the suggestion that audit and measurement alone would not make the change required, which was a statement that resonated with the rest of the panel and delegates alike. The panel also went into great detail to debate the evolution of compliance, with frank input from Marco Baren, of Philips, about stopping auditing completely.
  • Our sponsor breakout DNV GL lead an interesting talk about their use of blockchain adoption for certification, which has helped to change how supply chains operate. The talk highlighted how this technology has helped move from owning platforms to governing them, increasing depth in verifications at a lower cost, and reducing audit report counterfeiting.
  • The panel debate ‘Whose responsibility is it to go beyond compliance’ argued the statement: ‘This house believes that better compliance alone is insufficient and we are all responsible for going beyond compliance’. Jill Tucker, Dr Simon Lord, Rona Starr and Baptiste Carrier-Pradel discussed this challenging topic, with most of the audience agreeing with the motion. The panel agreed that whilst there is a time and a place for audits and certifications (‘compliance’), they are limited in scope. We must go beyond compliance by embedding these ethical values in a holistic way through a company’s entire way of doing business. Further challenges discussed included ensuring organisations understand that ‘beyond compliance’ cannot be achieved if they have yet to reach ‘compliance’, as well as the importance of companies maintaining standards once ‘compliance’ has been achieved.
  • The breakout session ‘The future of impact measurement’ discussed the idea of impact measurement becoming the ‘new’ risk assessment, with Louise Nicholls from M&S emphasising that measuring impact is essential in understanding the effectiveness of specific interventions.
  • The ‘Changing approach from risk management to impact’ breakout session saw representatives from companies such as the BBC and Twinings, discuss approaches to best engage with workers to identify if efforts are actually making an impact on their lives, as well as the specific programmes currently being used (by Twinings) in other countries.
  • The breakout session ‘Achieving impact from the start’ highlighted the various aspects organisations need to address when creating their sustainability goals; from how to gather ‘good’ data, to gaining control of your supply chain and creating more emotional buy-in from your buyers and suppliers.
  • Trevor Waldock, the founder and CEO of Emerging Leaders, delivered a powerful keynote speech, which described his experiences in Zambia. Trevor explained how empowering workers and people to become their own leaders can create effective and positive change in businesses and communities.
  • To kick-start day two, Warner Ten Kate, the Dutch National Public Prosecutor for Trafficking in Human Beings and People Smuggling, led a fascinating keynote where he discussed modern slavery occurrences and legal implications in the Netherlands and beyond, and the various ways authorities and corporations can tackle such issues.
  • A panel discussion on ‘Modern Slavery – turning talk into action’ focused on what businesses and legislators can do to combat slavery, including the delivery of schemes for victim support, investment in training and capability of suppliers, education awareness programmes and increased governmental support in this area.
  • A breakout session led by Gavin Milligan focused on how companies can use the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a guide to go beyond compliance. This discussion reiterated the importance of viewing the goals alongside each other and emphasised that learning from and communicating with other businesses is also key to improving your own sustainability policies.
  • The breakout ‘Beyond Health and Safety, addressing worker well-being’ focused on the more detailed way in which worker health and safety should be addressed. This included re-assessing the use of only ‘voluntary’ assessments, as well as the ways to look beyond the physical security of workers to understand their true ‘well-being’.
  • A panel with voices from Sedex, Woolworths SA and ILO to name a few, spoke during the breakout session for ‘Transforming supplier training and capacity building’. They agreed that collaboration was key and that the sharing of expertise and understanding was integral to achieve real improvements. Interestingly, alternative routes of communication were discussed, with the suggestions of buyers first building relationships with suppliers before actioning audits, as these can often be viewed negatively.
  • A unique keynote speech from Keren Pybus, discussed changes to the apparel manufacturing industry in Africa, alongside videos of her colleague Linda Ampah, who offered real-life stories of how her employees’ lives have changed for the better, through the training offered by Ethical Apparel Africa.
  • The breakout ‘Technology innovation in sustainable sourcing’ discussed the latest technology that has the potential to aid responsible business within supply chains. Whilst they agreed that technologies such as blockchain do add an invaluable contribution, they also expressed that businesses must be careful not to lose the human element within these programmes.
  • Through interaction with the audience during the breakout ‘Human rights made simple’, it was evident that whilst many organisations have a human rights policy in place, very few have actually carried out a human rights impact assessment. It was agreed that a human rights approach is a natural evolution moving on from a purely compliance-based approach, but we must ensure this remains holistic and addresses the root cause whilst focusing on areas that can drive action.
  • The breakout session ‘Making the most from worker voice technologies (one year on)’ saw Marianne Voss lead an interesting panel discussion with Dr Lea Esterhuizen, Antoine Heuty, and Beth Holzman. They covered the various solutions their companies have been using to gather data from workers around the world, and explained how this technology allows businesses to reach parts of the supply chain that are traditionally harder to audit, such as small suppliers and labour providers. However, they also agreed that direct worker reporting is another tool, rather than an answer to all risk management requirements. Whilst companies can use this to gain worker trust and engagement, which gives greater insight into their working lives and a greater ability to effect change in the workplace, it cannot replace the validation of information that comes through audits.
  • A thought-provoking final keynote was provided by Marco Baren, of Philips, who challenged the standard compliance processes, and discussed how he and his team are implementing new practices, which includes replacing traditional audit reliance with great engagement with suppliers and greater attention on SAQs, with real, tangible results.


We were also delighted to host the second annual Sedex Awards, which celebrates the fantastic work done by Sedex members worldwide, and gives them the opportunity to highlight the important and sustainable work they have carried out across a range of different industries.


The winners of each category were:

  • Best Example of Continuous Improvement: Mondelēz (USA) for their Cocoa Life scheme backed by a $400 million investment to help empower cocoa communities in a sustainable cocoa supply chain.
  • Best Collaborative Effort: James Cropper (UK) for their upcycling scheme with Selfridges and Veolia, which has seen used coffee cups being upcycled into Selfridges iconic yellow shopping bags.
  • Most Innovative New Programme: Laborlink (USA) for their mobile technology that established a two-way communication channel for workers to share their anonymous views in real-time, and for companies to receive unfiltered data directly from workers.
  • Best New Programme Implemented: Clas Ohlson (Sweden) worked with QuizRR to build capacity and awareness through innovative training solutions in workers’ rights and responsibilities, health & safety and worker engagement.


Read more about the winners


The full playlist of sessions and live interviews are now available on the Sedex YouTube page. Many thanks to all of the fantastic speakers, sponsors and most importantly, our attendees, for a brilliant two-day conference.

We very much look forward to welcoming you all back next year.

If you would like to be more involved in the Sedex Conference 2019, as a speaker, sponsor, or panel contributor, please email

Watch the Sedex Conference 2018 highlights now!

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