The Learning Loops system will boost suppliers confidence that the information they provide on their customers purchasing practices is being taken into consideration for improvements

The Learning Loops system will boost suppliers' confidence that the information they provide on their customers' purchasing practices is being taken into consideration for improvements

The Better Buying initiative is piloting a new process to help convert supplier ratings on brand and retailer purchasing practices into concrete actions and more sustainable business partnerships with measurable impacts.

The new two-year 'Learning Loops' project with Keystone Accountability has received funding through The Walt Disney Company's Supply Chain Investment Program, which helps address labour issues in global supply chains.

Working from Better Buying ratings data, a dialogue between specific buyers and their suppliers will be initiated to identify priority improvable business practices, identify potential solutions, and pilot test the solutions. And by documenting changes in buying practices and the meaningful impacts that result, the learning loops system will then help Better Buying to demonstrate the business case for improved purchasing practices.

"We recognise that sharing ratings reports will not alone result in better purchasing practices and improved buyer-supplier relationships," explains Marsha Dickson, president and co-founder of Better Buying. "The learning loops are intended to be the additional input needed to transform Better Buying ratings into concrete actions to improve buying practices." 

The project will be piloted with selected brands and retailers globally, and their suppliers in Bangladesh and East Asia, with the goal of scaling to all global partners in the future.

Launched two years ago, the Better Buying platform lets apparel and footwear suppliers rate the purchasing practices of their customers, with feedback shared anonymously across seven key categories. These areas include planning and forecasting, design and development, cost and cost negotiation, sourcing and order placement, payment and terms, management of the purchasing process, and CSR harmonisation.

The resulting data provides retailers and brands with insight on their purchasing practices and the impacts these have on achieving ethical sourcing goals, such as wages and reduction of excessive overtime. 

As more buyers and suppliers participate, Better Buying is building a strong base of knowledge about what good practices look like and where changes can have big impacts on business.

The first step towards the Learning Loops system will be selecting the retailers and brands to involve in the first year's pilot from those that are engaged with Better Buying and have received at least one ratings report of the company's performance on purchasing practices.

"The learning loops will extend the Better Buying ratings into an ongoing process of feedback about progress on moving from ratings to identified issues of joint action, to agreed changes in business practices to test, and finally to assessment of those changes as they are implemented," explains David Bonbright, chief executive of Keystone Accountability. 

"The final step – adapt, embed, and share successful practice changes – will be ongoing and involves the refinement of a tested improvement to a business practice, embedding it in business operations, and integrating it as appropriate to the full supply chain," adds Chris Schreiber, executive advisor for Better Buying.

Apart from developing a business case for improved purchasing practices – which may include outcomes like improved profit or reduced lead-times – the learning loops system will boost suppliers' confidence that information provided by them about their customers' purchasing practices is being taken into consideration for improvements. 

"Improved collaboration between brands/retailers and their suppliers will help tackle challenging purchasing practices and put business partners on a path toward improved business success," says Dickson.