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Case study: How BT promotes sustainability among its suppliers

Based in the UK but with customers in 180 countries around the globe, BT is one of the world’s leading communications services companies. Purchasing products and services from approximately 16,000 companies worldwide, BT expects all of them to meet its environmental, ethical and social requirements  Tweet This!, which are included as conditions in BT’s contracts.

This case study is based on the 2015/16 Delivering our purpose Report by BT published on the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Disclosure Database that can be found at this link. Through all case studies we aim to demonstrate what CSR/ ESG/ sustainability reporting done responsibly means. Essentially, it means: a) identifying a company’s most important impacts on the environment, economy and society, and b) measuring, managing and changing.

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Working with responsible suppliers reduces risks to BT’s reputation and helps BT meet its business goals. Accordingly, BT shares best practices and tools to help key suppliers improve, through its Better Future Supplier Forum. In order to promote sustainability among its suppliers BT took action to:

  • assess supplier performance and risk
  • share best practice
  • check for conflict minerals

What are the material issues the company has identified?

In its 2015/16 Delivering our purpose Report BT identified a range of material issues, such as energy and climate change, privacy and data security, network investment, economic impacts. Among these, promoting sustainability among its suppliers stands out as a key material issue for BT.

Stakeholder engagement in accordance with the GRI Standards

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) defines the Principle of Stakeholder Inclusiveness when identifying material issues (or a company’s most important impacts) as follows:

“The reporting organization shall identify its stakeholders, and explain how it has responded to their reasonable expectations and interests.”

Stakeholders must be consulted in the process of identifying a company’s most important impacts and their reasonable expectations and interests must be taken into account. This is an important cornerstone for CSR / sustainability reporting done responsibly.

Key stakeholder groups BT engages with:

Stakeholder Group
Customers
Employees
Government bodies
Investors
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
Suppliers

How stakeholder engagement was made to identify material issues

To identify and prioritise material topics BT interacted with stakeholders by phone, in meetings, through online discussion forums, focus groups, social media, and by participating in industry collaborations, also carrying out online surveys and interviews.

What actions were taken by BT to promote sustainability among its suppliers?

In its 2015/16 Delivering our purpose Report BT reports that it took the following actions for promoting sustainability among its suppliers:

  • Assessing supplier performance and risk
  • To identify any risks, BT asks all but its lowest-risk suppliers to complete an ethical standards questionnaire and uses their responses to assess the level of risk and work with those identified as high or medium risk to tackle areas of concern. In 2015/16, BT found new suppliers mostly needed support on issues such as excessive working hours, fining workers, protection of young workers and safety, particularly fire prevention and chemical handling. Where necessary, BT visits suppliers identified as high risk to check whether they meet its standards. In 2015/16, BT visited companies in China, France, Mexico, Poland, South Korea, the UK and the USA. If suppliers don’t meet BT’s requirements, BT engages with them to help them improve working conditions. Engagement helps suppliers to understand BT’s expectations and, in 2015/16, BT helped one new supplier create a policy on corporate responsibility, set up a team to manage it and define key performance indicators to measure performance.
  • Sharing best practice
  • BT’s Better Future Supplier Forum brings together 11 of its larger suppliers, to share experience on sustainability. BT’s aim is to integrate sustainability in product development, and spread best practice through the supplier base. Since joining the forum, several members enhanced their management of social and environmental issues. One equipment manufacturer cut working hours by an average of 23%, and another achieved a record staff retention rate of 94% in 2015, by improving working conditions. The forum has, also, helped suppliers significantly reduce their environmental impacts. In addition, BT has developed a new online tool to help companies assess their sustainability performance and identify specific opportunities for improvement, asking suppliers to use this in their businesses and with their own suppliers. This is a cost-effective way of benchmarking performance and supporting sustainability improvements.
  • Checking for conflict minerals
  • BT asks product suppliers whether their products contain minerals which may have been sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo or neighbouring countries. This helps BP avoid the minerals that fuel war – mainly tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold (3TG metals) – and comply with the US Dodd-Frank Act and BT’s Securities Exchange Committee (SEC) obligations. BT’s questions are based on the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative template. In 2015/16, BT found that most of the suppliers reporting back had engaged with their own suppliers, and identified smelters producing the 3TG metals that go into the products BT buys. This has given BT a better understanding of its suppliers’ own supply chains.

Which GRI Standards and corresponding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been addressed?

The GRI Standards addressed in this case are:

1) Disclosure 407-1 Operations and suppliers in which the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining may be at risk

2) Disclosure 408-1 Operations and suppliers at significant risk for incidents of child labor

3) Disclosure 414-1 New suppliers that were screened using social criteria

4) Disclosure 414-2 Negative social impacts in the supply chain and actions taken

 

Disclosure 407-1 Operations and suppliers in which the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining may be at risk corresponds to:

  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Business theme: Freedom of association and collective bargaining

Disclosure 408-1 Operations and suppliers at significant risk for incidents of child labor corresponds to:

  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Business theme: Abolition of child labor
  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Business theme: Abolition of child labor

Disclosure 414-1 New suppliers that were screened using social criteria corresponds to:

  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Business theme: Workplace violence and harassment
  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Business theme: Labor practices in the supply chain
  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Business theme: Workplace violence and harassment

Disclosure 414-2 Negative social impacts in the supply chain and actions taken corresponds to:

  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Business theme: Workplace violence and harassment
  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Business theme: Labor practices in the supply chain
  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Business theme: Workplace violence and harassment

 

80% of the world’s 250 largest companies report in accordance with the GRI Standards

SustainCase was primarily created to demonstrate, through case studies, the importance of dealing with a company’s most important impacts in a structured way, with use of the GRI Standards. To show how today’s best-run companies are achieving economic, social and environmental success – and how you can too.

Research by well-recognised institutions is clearly proving that responsible companies can look to the future with optimism.



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References:

1) This case study is based on published information by BT, located at the link below. For the sake of readability, we did not use brackets or ellipses. However, we made sure that the extra or missing words did not change the report’s meaning. If you would like to quote these written sources from the original, please revert to the original on the Global Reporting Initiative’s Sustainability Disclosure Database at the link:

http://database.globalreporting.org/

2) http://www.fbrh.co.uk/en/global-reporting-initiative-gri-g4-guidelines-download-page

3) https://g4.globalreporting.org/Pages/default.aspx

4) https://www.globalreporting.org/standards/gri-standards-download-center/

Note to BT: With each case study we send out an email requesting a comment on this case study. If you have not received such an email please contact us.

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