Insight transparency

Transparency becomes a skill

May. 28 2019 - 3 min

Today, transparency is considered the new gold standard of trust, and is seen as an essential barrier against potential economic, social and environmental disfunction. Today’s consumers are becoming agents of transparency — and sometimes activists, too. This development means that the least hint of obscurity can lead consumers to distrust or even reject a brand.

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But what exactly do we expect from a manufacturer or a service provider when we demand transparency?

In our globalized economy, value chains have become extremely complex. They can include dozens of suppliers and intermediaries scattered all over the globe.

In this context, transparency cannot simply consist of making all the raw information that exists accessible to the public. Asking for or demanding absolute transparency for a product or a manufacturing process would quickly come up against economic irrationality. Above all, it would raise the question of the relevance of this approach: is it interesting or necessary to say and share everything? Is all data comprehensible and usable by consumers and citizens?

The merits of transparency reside in the issue of its relativity, which is connected to societal expectations that are constantly evolving: what does society really want to understand? What are the risk points that should be monitored throughout the value chain?

The issue is to decipher the most complex raw data, and to define the most essential information that is most relevant to share, while refraining from revealing trade secrets, which would put some brands' continued existence at risk.

Product transparency includes three key ideas: guaranteed origin, quality assurance and, now, social impact.

- A certified origin means traceability is ensured

To monitor the entire value chain, we have new solutions available that rely on a twofold solution: 1) internet platforms (sometimes blockchain) where various information related to monitoring or verification of a product can be traced in a "register," and 2) markers that can be used for tracing, so a product can be followed throughout its life.

- Guaranteed quality means ensuring that the product complies with regulations, national or international requirements, and certifications and standards set by manufacturers themselves to define safety and quality criteria.

- Responding to societal aspirations for better environmental protection, human rights and fair-trade products that are more respectful of local communities has led brands to commit to being more transparent about how their products are made. One of the moments of truth that brands dread the most are social, ethical and safety scandals. The trust that you have placed in a brand can immediately be questioned as soon as an event reveals inconsistency with your values.

Transparency has a reciprocal relationship with trust: it is the basis for trust, but is also nourished by it.

Demonstrating transparency requires the proper expertise. It is a skill.

For this reason, guaranteeing the origin, quality and ethics of manufacturing processes requires the expertise and the seal of approval of companies like Bureau Veritas. Transparency is not self-declared; it must be based on methodologies applied by expert intermediaries, trusted third parties who are impartial and independent.

In this quest for transparency, the digital revolution is a major asset. The convergence of technologies (such as the cloud, the internet of things, analytics and, more recently, blockchain) allows for easier access, understanding, collaboration and traceability of massive amounts of information that were previously impossible for humans to process.

All this data provides manufacturers with more transparency in their supply chains, and citizen-consumers with more clarity about the products they buy. But it only has value if a third party guarantees its reliability.

Didier Michaud-Daniel, Chief Executive Officer