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The GFTN Guide to Legal and Responsible Sourcing

Questionnaires - Things to Consider

General guidance
Suppliers need encouragement in order to complete questionnaires. Below are some strategies, based on practical experience that can help get the questionnaires completed and returned.

Contact suppliers well in advance of them receiving the questionnaires to explain the commercial reasons for asking them to complete a questionnaire. This can be done by e-mail and should be backed up by a phone call.

Mail out the questionnaire with an accompanying letter explaining why you need this information and what the information will be used for. Emphasize that all commercial information they provide will remain completely confidential and will not be shared with anyone else, whether buyer or supplier.

Allow 2 to 3 months for a supplier to complete the questionnaire from the time that they receive it. It tends not to be a priority; also, the supplier may need time to gather the appropriate documentation. You will need to be prepared to answer questions and concerns that suppliers raise regarding the questionnaire.

Provide a deadline date for completion, stating clearly that if they fail to return a completed questionnaire, they will be rated automatically as a high-risk supplier. You may need to contact some suppliers just before the deadline to remind them what they need to do; you also may need to extend the deadline by a few days for some.

Emphasize that the supplier needs to provide appropriate objective evidence to support all self-declarations. This is still an inexact science. What constitutes objective evidence to support the answers to the range of questions will vary significantly from one country to another.

Make sure that the mill or manufacturer is answering the questions or supplying the appropriate information when the organization you have sent the questionnaire to is merely acting as an intermediary for a mill or manufacturer. Some intermediaries get concerned about confidentiality. If you deal with this type of organization, you may need to reassure them that you are not excluding them from the supply chain but merely want answers to questions: Where did it come from? How did it get here?

Ensure that all forest sources for each product are identified, if known. Although you may be asking a single supplier about a single product, if you purchase significant quantities, or different components of composite products, these may come from more than one source forest, and even more than one country. One of the sources may be legal and the other not, making an entire product line effectively illegal. Traceability is critical in such cases.

Below are some common issues that arise when suppliers are asked questions regarding their sourcing of forest products, along with suggestions on how to deal with them.

Supplier didn’t provide enough information—Major gaps in data make it difficult to make any form of assessment. Talk to the supplier and find out why it cannot or did not provide the data requested. If the supplier does not have the technical expertise, ask that it request its own suppliers to furnish the missing data and to collate these data for you. Agree on a date by which the data will be provided.

Supplier misunderstood a question—Make contact with the supplier and explain why you are asking the question and what sort of answer you require.

Supplier refuses to complete the questionnaire—The supplier may refuse to complete questionnaires or provide data. Lack of resources is a common excuse, as is “company policy.” Explain to the supplier that your requests are valid and that you routinely make this request of all your suppliers. Small suppliers may have genuine concerns about committing time and resources to providing data; in such circumstances agree that the data can be provided in small segments over an agreed-upon period of time. Suppliers that continue to avoid supplying data should be given an ultimatum, after which they should be removed from the supply chain. This is a last resort, however, and the intervention of senior management on both sides may be useful to maintain a dialogue and to avoid this.

Concerns over confidentiality—In some industries and in some countries it is common to experience concerns over the confidentiality of supply chain data. This can be overcome in a number of ways, ranging from giving the supplier verbal assurance that the data are used for environmental and quality control purposes and will not be used in a commercial context, through to giving the supplier a signed confidentiality agreement. The provision of data may have to be made in a manner that furnishes the required information without revealing the names of commercial intermediaries or processors. However, full disclosure is preferred and may come in time as part of an action plan.

Supplier “does not feel responsible”—Some suppliers do not feel obliged to respond to requests for supply chain data. Arguments can vary, from a position of “being too small to have any effect” to “it is none of your business.” Suppliers in this situation should be given an opportunity to reflect on their position. Experience has shown that companies with little regard for their customers’ expectations and requirements usually fail. If a supplier cannot change its opinions and recognize your point of view, it should have no place in your supply chain.

Supplier cannot provide evidence of legality—Depending on your supplier’s place within the supply chain, obtaining such proofs may prove difficult. Those supply chain elements furthest removed from the forests or primary processors will experience the greatest difficulty in obtaining the required documentation. You have several options to address this difficulty: Give the supplier more time to obtain the documents required.

Encourage the supplier to source forest products in less controversial areas.
Encourage the supplier to seek independent certification for its forest products.
Encourage the supplier to obtain a third-party legal verification audit.


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