Collaboration has been described as “key” for supply chain management if disasters such as the Rana Plaza factory collapse are to be avoided.

Jo Webb, head of stakeholder relations for Sedex and a member of the UN Global Compact Supply Chain Sustainability Advisory Group, stated that risks tend to grow further down the supply chain.

She explained that at the same time the capacity to address those risks decreases, which means it is like an “iceberg” as there are so many non-compliance issues lurking beneath the surface.

“Collaboration is key. Some of the chronic supply chain issues we are seeing are endemic and no one company can solve them on their own. Duplication is still prevalent,” said Ms Webb.

The supply chain expert added that more time and effort can be spent on addressing issues, rather on commissioning constant audits to differing requirements, which could help firms to treat sustainability as non-competitive issues and work together to drive convergence.

Many major companies have taken steps to improve their supply chains in the wake of the recent Rana Plaza incident, with UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s among them.

Louise Herring, ethical trading manager of the retailer, explained that as part of the company’s 20/20 strategy, it has been working with suppliers to identify the root causes of labour issues.

“At supplier-level, our training programmes are helping women workers to understand the options available to them so that they can pursue a career and improve their standard of living,” she said.

Despite the work many firms are doing with their supply chains in recent months, the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS) has called for professionals working in supply chain jobs to be licensed before they are allowed to practice.

CIPS global chief executive David Noble stated that the body believes the introduction of a new formal qualification for the industry can help to protect members of the public.

As well as the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, supply chain issues were thrust into the spotlight by the horsemeat scandal in the UK this year.