4 ways to prevent harmful products entering your supply chain

December 12, 2019 Ron Volpe

The vaping crisis that has claimed the lives of a growing number of people raises questions about its effectiveness as an aid to quit smoking and shines a light on deficiencies in today’s supply chains. But it’s not just vaping. Similar supply chain risks exist in other industries. And unless we address these deficiencies, they are likely to cause further deaths as harmful companies continue to sell harmful goods to consumers.

The problem is, often consumers don’t know where their products come from, especially when they’re not buying from major brands. They have no visibility into where they’re made, who handled them on the way to market and whether they’re safe and approved by local or US regulators. Most supply chains today are a black box where consumers only see what comes out at the end.

And consumers need a way to see where the products they are buying come from so they can make informed decisions about whether they are buying something safe to consume. And some products shouldn’t be entering the supply chain at all.

So what can you do to tighten your supply chains and protect your customers? Here are a few ideas.   

1. Track and trace

Allowing consumers to see where products originate can go a long way toward helping them avoid questionable sources and providers. Vendors should explore technologies like blockchain and a simple barcode that consumers can scan with a mobile device to show where products come from and any local certifications they may have received. These benefit vendors because it allows them to verify the safety and authenticity of their goods, and it helps consumers because they can avoid products that don’t provide this traceability. The ability to track goods from their source is severely lacking in all industries. Almost three out of four companies have no information about their suppliers’ suppliers. Implementing track and trace for medicines and other drugs would allow consumers to make informed decisions about what they buy, and avoid products that have no proof of origin.

2. Good manufacturing practices

Good Manufacturing Practices is a system that ensures products are produced and controlled consistently according to quality standards in a number of different industries. It’s designed to minimize the risks involved in production that can’t be eliminated through testing the final product. However, in the case of the vaping industry, there hasn’t been a significant effort to create similar quality standards. A specific example is the use of a wide variety of "cutting agents" (a chemical used to dilute or adulterate a product) to "stretch" the THC used in cannabis vaping cartridges.

3. Chain of custody and blockchain

Blockchain technology can create a traceable "chain of custody", creating a "digital passport" that provides a verifiable transcript of a product’s lifecycle and journey. At its core, blockchain is meant to deliver the exact forensics (integrity, traceability, authentication, verifiability, security), which are absent in many supply chains. While a blockchain-enabled chain of custody has the potential to deliver a verified product and user experience, it may take time to play out, as the supply chain can slow impacting sales within the industry, resulting in a lack of support from the industry itself.

4. Stricter regulations

Governments must also play a role. Enforcing tighter regulations can help ensure that products are legitimately labeled and sourced. For example, the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act in the US increases scrutiny of deliveries by requiring international senders to add basic information about a package’s intended recipient, contents and the shipper’s name and address. The act is designed to help stop the influx of deadly synthetic drugs like fentanyl into the US from China. Applied more broadly, similar regulations could help control and mitigate the flow of other dangerous products into supply chains.

Increasing protection

Consumers need better protection against potentially harmful goods. Using technology that can verify the origin and safety of legitimate products, along with greater efforts to prevent dangerous drugs from entering countries illegally, is a good place to start. It’s vital for the government and industry to take action now before this problem becomes even more severe.

Want to know more about the technologies transforming the supply chain? Check out our Cheif Future Officer's guide.  

A longer version of this post first appeared in Supply Chain Dive.


About the Author

Ron Volpe

Ron is a design thinking digital supply chain evangelist, with extensive global experience upstream, downstream, and in the middle. At Tradeshift, Ron’s focus is on building out an ecosystem of Apps that reduce friction, add value, and drive simplification in the relationship between B2B trading partners. He is a frequent collaborator with the design firm IDEO, and is the co-host of Tradeshift’s iTunes podcast series Supply Change.

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