Disability Works

Supply Chains and the Case for Inclusion of People with Disabilities

“Supply chains” and “people with disabilities” are two terms that are not commonly used in the same sentence. Now there is growing realization that inclusion in the supply chain can accelerate progress socially and economically.
By Jeremiah Prince

When diversity and inclusion principles came to the forefront, it was with a focus on employees, and fair and equal employment practices. However, the powerful principles of D&I – transparency, equal opportunity and social responsibility – can also apply to supply chains.

In fact, corporate leaders interested in practicing social responsibility have a responsibility to ensure transparency, equal opportunity, and fairness in everything involved in the production of goods and services, and in administrative operations.

From this perspective, the inclusion of people with disabilities should become a corporate core value which then extends to procurement practices and the supply chain.

Exclusion Continues
According to the Work Bank, approximately 15 percent of the world’s population experiences some form of disability. That is one-fifth of the global population or up to 190 million people. In the U.S., the CDC reports that one out of every five adults has some type of disability. That is 19.4 percent of the population or 53 million.

People with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed. Though some are institutionalized or not of working age, the large majority are capable of working, if given the opportunity. In 2015, only 17.5 percent of people in the U.S. with disabilities were employed. Given the poor employment numbers, it is not surprising that workers with a disability are more likely to be self-employed.

To bring the numbers home to the corporate world, think of them like this. If 15 percent of the population has a disability, that means 15 percent of customers are likely to have a disability.

If that is true, why would a company not want at least 15 percent of its workforce and its supply chain made up of people with disabilities? Not only does inclusion of people with disabilities make sense from this perspective, but diverse teams increase innovation, creativity and the bottom line, according to numerous studies.

Driving Supply Chain Performance Through Diversity
Inclusion in the supply chain can work two ways. First, a performance goal can be set for the supplier’s workforce makeup. Second, a supply chain performance goal can be set for the utilization of suppliers owned by people with disabilities.

The advantages of this approach are many. One is the expression of social responsibility in a results-oriented manner. On a global basis, people with disabilities are much more likely to be living in poverty, and self-employment is one way out, especially in economically disadvantaged societies. To make this happen, the corporate leaders must be willing to work with communities to establish connections and provide training in order to successfully do business.

Another advantage is the utilization of suppliers and their workforces to enhance diversity as a driver of supply chain performance. The main drivers of supply chain performance (responsiveness and efficiency) are facilities, inventory, transportation, information, sourcing and pricing.

Companies embedding diversity principles in supply chains begin to look at the principle of inclusion as opportunities to increase supplier performance in many areas. For example, including disability-owned businesses in the supply chain may increase access to desirable locations or new production sources, minimize risks of supply chain disruption by adding new sources, or improve the efficiency of moving inventory by adding new locations. People with disabilities can improve innovation because they understand the needs of the disabled population, and they also provide a link to a multi-billion market.

From a workforce perspective, adding a workforce performance goal to supplier expectations makes sense in the age of Supplier Relationship Management (SRM). In SRM, key suppliers become partners to their customers, offering new solutions to problems. By increasing the percentage of the workforce consisting of people with disabilities, the suppliers mirror society. If a local or regional supplier, they reflect the local or regional makeup. If a global supplier, they are participating in the effort to increase employment of people with disabilities.

Diversity Principle Placed in Action
To achieve results, it is necessary to make the inclusion of people with disabilities a core diversity principle.

Walgreens has supplier diversity and disability inclusion key pillars in its Corporate Social Responsibility program, both on equal footing with community, diversity and environmental sustainability. The supplier diversity and disability pillars express responsibility to community, but they also build brand.

Exxon has 165,000 suppliers around the world. When selecting suppliers, it takes into account issues like the inclusion of a greater percentage of the local community and underrepresented people. This is a practice that any size company could adopt.

The U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN) developed the Disability Supplier Diversity Program, recognizing that increasing the participation of businesses owned by people with disabilities is a job creator and adds to the country’s success.

However, corporate leaders need to understand that having a policy and seeing progress are two different things. Goals must be set and suppliers must be held accountable. The principle of inclusion has to be the way the company does business. Procurement and decision-makers participate in the effort and are also held accountable for meeting performance standards for inclusion of people with disabilities. The corporate culture must be supportive. In return, suppliers can enhance the talent management process by becoming a source of qualified people with disabilities, helping to eliminate potential bias in recruitment and hiring.

The supply chain offers two ways to improve inclusion of people with disabilities. One is through the utilization of suppliers owned by people with disabilities. The other is holding suppliers accountable for hiring people with disabilities.

Leveraging the supply chain in this manner turns suppliers into external champions while embedding the inclusion principle across the organization. Wherever the suppliers operate, they can exert influence on communities. It is a competitive strategy for ensuring the best talent is included and contributing to organizational success.