Media reports detailing abuses suffered by the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China cast a spotlight on society’s long-running failure to eradicate the use of forced labor from supply chains.

Companies’ efforts to tackle the problem through improved supply chain visibility and the introduction of audit programs are laudable and have deterred some bad actors. However, this scourge will not be rooted out until its perpetrators face stiff penalties that are strictly enforced — and that requires a legislative framework that is much more punitive than the one currently in force.

A problem not to be underestimated

The International Labour Organization defines forced…


Companies are rethinking their supply chain priorities as they chart their paths through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond. Prior to the pandemic, we recognized that corporate interest in supply chain sustainability was rising dramatically. At MIT, and in response to this trend, we launched the first global State of Supply Chain Sustainability research effort in 2019 together with CSCMP. But as the pandemic severely disrupted supply chains, it also forced our research into a much different direction.

Our first State of Supply Chain Sustainability report, published in July, showed that in 2019 some companies were undertaking substantial efforts to improve…


Alexis Bateman and Ken Cottrill

Strawberry Picking in Oxnard, California. Photo credit: Alex Proimos

Companies have long known that visibility into the workplace practices of far-flung offshore suppliers is an essential component of supply chain risk management. Many enterprises lack that visibility, even though it is becoming increasingly important across global supply chains.

The COVID-19 crisis is now making it clear that workplace conditions closer to home may need to come under similar scrutiny.

In the US, the vulnerability of employees in meatpacking plants to infection from the coronavirus is one issue that is shining a light on domestic workplace practices. The vital role these individuals — and countless others toiling in factories, plants, and farms — play in domestic supply chains has become painfully obvious.

Multi-sector stoppages underscore risks

Meat processing plants around the US shut down this April when coronavirus infection rates among workers spiked in the facilities. President Trump signed an executive order to force the plants to resume production, citing the threat posed to the national meat and poultry…


Co-authored by: Alexis Bateman, Eva Ponce, and Inma Borrella

Photo credit: S.J. Dunphy

Circular supply chains are at the heart of efforts to tackle the massive environmental problems created by waste and end-of-life products. But how can companies adopt circularity when their supply chains are designed to operate linearly?

Some 40 companies from various sectors as well as third-party organizations, service providers, and academics, gathered last month at the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics (MIT CTL) for a roundtable titled Toward Circularity in the Supply Chain to explore the challenges of refashioning supply chains.

The discussions yielded many ideas across four key areas…


The 2019 holiday peak buying season is fast approaching, and as has happened in past seasons over recent years, e-commerce volumes will probably reach unprecedented levels. It is also likely that e-commerce will attract criticism for its poor sustainability track record.

Online retailers have attracted the ire of environmental groups for sending huge volumes of cardboard and plastic packaging to landfills. Swarms of package delivery vans pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Alexis Bateman and Ken Cottrill, MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics

Reports of poor working conditions in warehouses, low pay, and walkouts in European distribution facilities reinforce e-commerce’s…


Consumers are deeply concerned about food safety issues at a time when Federal regulators appear to be pulling back from stricter oversight of food supply chains. Should companies step up to the plate, or take a cue from the Feds and adopt a laissez-faire approach to food safety?

Image used under creative commons license from photographer My Fruit. flickr.com/people/myfruit/

The frequency and scale of food risks and recalls has increased significantly in the last few years. One out of six Americans gets sick from eating contaminated foods every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Recently, six million pounds of ground beef contaminated with salmonella bacteria sickened 246 people across 25 states. On November 20, 2018, the CDC warned consumers not to eat romaine lettuce and retailers not to serve or sell the product owing to contamination issues.

High profile cases like these have heightened concerns over food safety. Stories of recalls appear to capture news headlines…

Alexis Bateman

Alexis is a Research Scientist and Director of Sustainable Supply Chains at MIT.

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