A recent article in the Manchester Guardian reported on the latest sub-tier supply risk horror story. It is alleged that British supermarket chains Tesco, Asda, Marks & Spencer and dozens of other supermarkets may be inadvertent parties to a different kind of laundering scheme – beef laundering. Greenpeace, after a 3-year undercover investigation, called this situation to the attention of Brazilian authorities, who are investigating reports that major cattle farms and slaughterhouses are sourcing some of their beef from illegal sources. These illegal farms have been deforesting the rainforest to raise cattle. Illegal sources are alleged to have been purposely mixed with legitimate sources in order to hide the illegal beef and leather. This illegal beef is nearly impossible to trace. Apparently Brazilian supermarkets are cancelling contracts with the illegitimate farms, but the British supermarkets are still in the process of auditing and verifying that their meat sources are, in fact, contaminated with illegitimate products.
This situation is disturbing from many points of view. The lack of traceability of the meat is certainly a problem because it is causing deforestation of South American rainforests. Food safety should also be a critical concern. How does the consumer know that the illegal farms adhere to proper health standards and are not putting sick cattle into the food chain? The meat, leather and cosmetic ingredients that come from Amazon cattle are shipped worldwide, which may mean that many more companies are inadvertently supporting deforestation activities and global climate change.
Sub-tier supplier risk surfaces again. Beef laundering is the latest in a series of unpleasant supply chain discoveries. While such situations may be hard to predict or prevent, they can be mitigated. As companies address supply risk, they need to be continually vigilant about potential risks. And when supply chain problems surface, firms need to act quickly to verify and remedy, if necessary, not wasting time denying the charges. Being proactive goes a long way to avoiding even more damage to the perception of corporations. When the public perceives that a company is not proactive about supply chain risks, the damage caused by poor public perception can easily translate into lost revenue.