Embedding Values in 21st-Century Supply Chains
The global Covid-19 pandemic has led many to re-evaluate the value society places on workers who are essential to providing basic goods and services, and ensuring the smooth operating of supply chains that are key to maintaining broad societal wellbeing.
This has been seen, for instance, with migrant fruit and vegetable pickers in the UK, or people involved in supply chain logistics roles (such as drivers and seafarers).
Combined with greater transparency, heightened levels of consumer awareness, and the risk of severe reputational damage, we hope to see social justice – in terms of fair pay, good working conditions, strong employment protections, respect for human rights – cascade through all supply chains at all tiers and intermediate levels (transport/logistics). Corporations should not be able to simply ‘up-sticks’ and move on when wages in one country increase – a trend we have seen in the apparel sector, for instance, where a rise in wages and protections around working hours in China led many companies to shift supply chains to India, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia, where wages are lower and workers’ rights, on the whole, even less well protected.
‘Post-extractivism’ is a term that may be unfamiliar to many asset owners and investment managers. We began this Insight by noting that supply chains today are usually thought of in anthropocentric, linear, and material terms.
By contrast, post-extractivism ‘as a system of thought and action… encourages us to think from an Earth-centred perspective about our role and our place on a living planet, and draws upon indigenous thinking.’36
It proposes radical alternatives to current models of development thinking and explores fields of action for a just transition towards new, reciprocal ways of being present to one another and our living planet. Rooted in indigenous cultures of the Americas and elsewhere, it sees the natural world not as a ‘resource’ to be plundered, but as a web of life, of inter-connected, reciprocal ecosystems, of which humanity is part.
Post-extractivism might be usefully seen as an adjunct to the circular economy model. It would seek to minimise the exploitation of nature (including humans), whilst offering a very different worldview to that which predominates today through globalised capitalism.
"In Brazil, there are two words to describe the appropriation of resources from Nature: extrativismo describes the collecting of natural products from the forest by Amazonian hunter-gatherer communities, while extractivismo (with an extra ‘c’) refers to the pillaging, pollution, and destruction of nature that is now widespread in the region and beyond.”
Post-extractivism would have us tread lightly upon the Earth. It would do away with fracking for methane gas, deep-sea dredging for sand, mountaintop removal for mining, clear-cutting and burning of forest for agriculture, and devastation of boreal forests for oil sands. Mountains, rivers, animals, and forests would become embedded in a sacred geography, not be seen simply as mounds of rocks or rows of trees to be exploited, commoditised, and turned into financial capital. We would (re)-learn to live in harmony with natural cycles, assuming again our role as a stewardship species. Even in adopting just some fragments of such a worldview, supply chains, nested within the biosphere, would start to look very different indeed!