What is the difference between supply chain mapping, traceability and transparency?

Ever since Patagonia published its supplier map in 2007, the terms ‘supply chain mapping’, ‘traceability’ and 'transparency’ have been used interchangeably. To a consumer, there is little difference: at the end of the day, they enable you to see where a product came from. But to a brand, it’s the difference between making a claim, verifying it, and publicizing it. They’re related, but the underlying processes and technologies are completely different.

Mapping = Discovery

Supply chain mapping is the process of engaging with direct suppliers to discover indirect suppliers, resulting in an understanding of the end-to-end supply chain for a material, a product, or a brand. It is usually the only time a company gets in touch with indirect suppliers, so it’s a good time to collect data on quality control, social and environmental performance and make sure the indirect supply chain lives up to the brand’s standards. Supply chain mapping is also the foundation for risk planning, conflict minerals reporting and modern slavery / EU vigilance due diligence.

Traceability = Assurance

Many companies are eager to publish their supply chains once they’re mapped. Your legal department will ask for more: that’s because supply chain mapping is only based on supplier disclosure. Supply chain traceability is the process of tracking every commercial transaction in the end-to-end supply chain to account for the time and place where every step occurred in the supply chain of a unit, batch or lot of finished good. Traceability offers a number of advantages, from real-time chain of custody reports to verification that products are authentic and vendors are certified. It's also becoming law, from pharmaceutical serialization to US FDA food safety.

Transparency = Disclosure

Having mapped your supply chain and made it traceable, you're ready to share the results with stakeholders. Supply chain transparency is the process of disclosing suppliers to private customers and/or public consumers. Committing to supply chain transparency is usually the most effective way to drive the new business processes needed for mapping and traceability. It's also the right thing to do.

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