Ikea had entered into an earlier relationship with the Doi Tung weaving factory, a business that was created in 1993 with seven female weavers, drawing on traditional skills and tribal models. The factory was able to open up markets beyond the women’s villages, and in 2007, Ikea stepped in to provide training and quality control. Today, according to Mr. Dispanadda Diskul, the two factories have 125 workers — and one of the largest collections of hand looms in Southeast Asia — making traditional fabrics for local and global brands and designers.
Many major international companies are broadening their base of suppliers to include women, minorities and other disadvantaged groups, such as people who are disabled or gay, lesbian or transgender. Just as many companies actively seek to diversify the ranks of their personnel, corporate procurement departments are trying to diversify those from whom they buy. Terms like “supplier diversity,” “inclusion,” “solidarity sourcing” and “responsible sourcing” increasingly represent accepted, even expected, goals.
In the United States, supplier diversity had its origins in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when government programs were designed to seek out and encourage black-owned businesses to compete for public and private contracts.
Since then, that drive has expanded internationally. Major corporations as different as Coca-Cola, Exxon, Walmart and Intel have put in place programs designed to encourage diversified supply chains, not just because they think it is the right thing to do, but because it is good business. They cite the advantages of new approaches taken by women, minorities or other disadvantaged groups who feel free to challenge traditional ways of thinking.
“Our customer base is diverse, so our supply base should be too,” said Megan Stowe of Intel, who manages the semiconductor giant’s program for expanding diversity of suppliers. “You get stuck in your ways, and then along comes someone who says, ‘Hey, let’s look at this in a different way.’”
She acknowledged that in some countries with business cultures strongly dominated by men, as in Japan, efforts to promote suppliers’ diversity can be a challenge. “It has been exciting,” Ms. Stowe said. “The reaction is more puzzlement than resistance.”
By its own benchmark, Intel, a California-based company with $70.8 billion in revenues last year, has succeeded in shifting more business to companies run by women. In 2017, it set a goal of $100 million in contracts with women-owned businesses by 2020; recently it doubled that goal. Intel also actively seeks out bids from minority-owned businesses in several countries, Ms. Stowe said.