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Ensuring a healthy supply chain throughout the COVID-19 crisis

The first in a quarterly series of blog posts about responsible supply chain management from the PSCI Chair, Caroline O'Brien

Covid-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge, and not least to the supply chains that fuel so many aspects of our lives. Ensuring uninterrupted access to quality medicines, around the world, has been the immediate focus of our industry as we navigate this strange time. However, as we adjust to the ‘new normal’ (or new abnormal?), I have the opportunity to reflect on what this pandemic has taught us about the responsibility of businesses, and our ability to ride out such crises.

My role as Global Quality Audit Director for the AsiaPac region – for which I’m currently based in Osaka, Japan – has given me quite a vantage point during the pandemic (it’s also kept me far from my family and very reliant on video calls – but that’s another story). We are no longer able to rely on physically travelling to our suppliers and company sites to audit, and we along with regulators and our peer companies have had to adapt and consider novel and innovative ways to achieve the oversight that our audits require. For Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative (PSCI) members who carry out audits, the auditing programme has, like responsible supply chain management as a whole, two over-arching goals. First, to improve the health, safety, environmental, and wider societal outcomes of the manufacturing and buying process; and second, to improve business resilience by reducing risk and building preparedness. For many pharmaceutical companies, the supplier network is vast with a mix of direct and indirect suppliers (tier 1, tier 2 and beyond). Even amongst the most sophisticated companies, transparency across tier 2 and 3 and suppliers is a challenge.


"Whilst other sectors might send workers home or halt production, manufacturing medicines can’t be done outside of specialist facilities, so we are compelled to find safe and healthy ways to operate"

This crisis has tested corporate approaches to supply chain management, underscoring the importance of the practices often grouped under the heading ‘responsible business’. Whether it’s the provision of effective personal protective equipment (PPE), education around personal hygiene and safety, respect for worker rights and the environment - a commitment to standards are part of our societal responsibility and also a foundation for surviving external threats to the supply chain that provides us, all of us, with access to medicines vital to our wellbeing. Whilst other sectors might send workers home or halt production, manufacturing medicines can’t be done outside of specialist facilities, so we are compelled to find safe and healthy ways to operate.

In many ways, my role as Chair of the PSCI – a non-profit collaboration between over 40 pharmaceutical and healthcare companies to advance responsible supply chain practices – places me in a privileged position, in being able to observe how my peers are responding to these challenges. It’s been fantastic to witness the active good practice sharing between our member companies. For example, we recently shared with our membership the guidance that Novartis has provided to its suppliers in response to Covid-19, giving detailed instructions and advice on a range of topics from distancing and safety to labour rights.

Fundamental corporate responsibilities, such as preserving the environment and human rights, cannot be sacrificed because businesses are operating in ‘crisis mode’. Taking labour rights specifically, it’s my hope that the sector will support the workers that manufacture and package our products – including those who work for us indirectly through third parties – with the same consideration with which we support the decision-makers working directly for us in offices. This might mean enhancing paid sick leave and adding flexibility on proof of sickness, allowing workers to take time off to support their loved ones, enabling hygiene and distancing within dormitories and other provided accommodation, and supporting migrant workers - for example by continuing their employment even when they’re unable to work, and if they do wish to return home then ensuring they have access to the documents and financial support they need to make that journey without harm to themselves or others.

"Fundamental corporate responsibilities, such as preserving the environment and human rights, cannot be sacrificed because businesses are operating in ‘crisis mode’"

At PSCI we face similar operational challenges to many others. Nevertheless, we have been realizing opportunities to accelerate the digitalization of our community and resources. In particular, we’re pleased to have launched our online community platform for suppliers last month: ‘The Link for Suppliers’ enables consultation and dialogue on responsible supply chain issues and makes it even easier for suppliers to share audits and access our capability building resources. I’m really looking forward to seeing The Link grow and develop. Also this month we brought over 140 members together for our first fully virtual member meeting, notably with guest presentation from Sir David King, formerly the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor advising on the Foot and Mouth epidemic, who commented on that other public health crisis – climate change – and the need to maintain the momentum we’ve gained on this issue.

So, all in all a time of unprecedented challenge but also an opportunity to support and drive progress, reaffirming and underscoring the vital role that business plays in society. There is much to be done!

Caroline O’Brien,

Global Quality Audit, AsiaPac Director, AstraZeneca and Chair, PSCI

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About PSCI:

PSCI: Creating a better supply chain in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry.

The Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative (PSCI) is a group of pharmaceutical and healthcare companies who share a vision of better social, health, safety and environmental outcomes in the communities where we buy.

We believe that collectively PSCI members can share knowledge and expertise, across our industry, to drive complex, global change more effectively than any one organization alone.

We have joined forces to promote responsible supply chain management and better business conditions across the industry.


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