Target: a case study on transparency

Different supply chains have different challenges — in seafood, the number of species and fisheries is massive; in textiles, the supply chain may start on a loom in someone’s home; and in furniture, a single chair may have a dozen sources of wood. Target has to deal with them all – their business model requires them to work across a huge array of supply chains. In order to maintain consumer trust across their products, Target has doubled down on their goal of achieving transparency in those supply chains.

To make sure they were getting it right when it came to seafood, Target partnered with FishWise, an NGO focused on working with consumers and businesses to increase seafood sustainability. SeaWeb spoke with FishWise and Target to learn more about their work around reporting and transparency at the corporate level.

An introduction from FishWise

Transparency is a core tenet of the Common Vision for Sustainable Seafood, which serves as a guide for businesses to develop and implement sustainable seafood programs. From a business perspective, transparency is a way to maintain a positive reputation and also serves to build trust and generate brand loyalty. While it’s great that many retailers are adopting sustainable seafood programs, the credibility of these programs can be undermined if the company’s sustainability criteria, goals, and progress are not publicly available.

In sustainability reporting, it’s important to be very clear about the scope of the sustainable seafood policy, along with any associated goals. For example, does the company address national brand seafood items in its sustainable seafood commitment, or are they only reporting out on private label products? What criteria are used to evaluate whether or not seafood products meet the company’s policy (certifications, ratings, FIPs, etc.)? Is social responsibility and traceability in seafood supply chains being addressed? Are the commitments time-bound, and does the company annually report out against its goals?

And then there’s the question about what happens after a company reaches its goals. At FishWise, we feel strongly that it’s important for a company to annually report on the status of its sustainable seafood program, even after a goal has been achieved, to ensure that the program stays on track. In many ways, transparency into how well a company is maintaining a credible seafood program is just as important as publicly disclosing progress on forward-facing goals and initiatives.

Staff and organizational pride is a clear benefit of transparent reporting for all of our partners. When a company has strong internal alignment and support for a sustainability goal, progress happens more quickly.

Transparency is becoming increasingly important to consumers. It’s a smart idea for companies to stay ahead of that trend by publicly reporting on their goals even after they’ve been achieved. Target’s annual CSR report is an excellent example of a company creating a platform to communicate to stakeholders about its progress.

Transparency helps build a company’s positive reputation since it increases trust. 

Transparent reporting on environmental and social initiatives can also be used by potential investors to evaluate a company’s leadership and values on important global issues.

Our partners use different methods to report publicly, such as blogs, press releases, CSR reports, and website updates, so we’ve had to tailor our communication styles and advice to suit our partners’ audiences and communication platforms.  Our level of involvement with these communications also varies across partnerships. Some of our partners rely on us to provide content about their sustainability efforts, while other companies have dedicated personnel to facilitate these communications. For the latter, our primary role is to review the content to ensure its accuracy.

For the future, we plan to continue working with our partners to maintain transparency, be that on progress against new goals involving shelf-stable tuna, social responsibility, and traceability, or just as importantly, on how well our partners are maintaining their existing commitments.

Target is a good example of a partner who is committed to transparency as a way forward, not just a trend to follow. Hear more from the retailer about their efforts to improve supply chains through honest and open reporting in the below case study.

Click on the topics below to read the Target case study.

Join members of FishWise and Target at the 2017 SeaWeb Seafood Summit, June 5-7, in Seattle, Washington. We hope you will continue this conversation with us there.

Early on in our process, the goal setting approach highlighted the need for us to work with trusted experts in the industry to get a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities that were ahead of us. As you can see in our report, we weren’t shy about reporting the reality of where we were and how far we got. Even when we slipped a bit in progress in 2013 we continued to move forward, knowing we had publicly stated our commitment and needed to be accountable to doing everything we could to get there. We also knew that we had set out to achieve a goal few others were striving toward – including National Brand items in our goal – and we were motivated by the opportunity to really take an industry leading approach beyond our private label.

Our CSR report is organized in three main sections. We start with a discussion of our materiality results, our approach to stakeholder engagement, and our evolving strategy and goals. Then, we share stories and initiatives in four broad focus areas that highlight our progress aligned with our (CSR) strategy. The third section is organized by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards and includes additional information on our most significant achievements and challenges, with links to more information on our corporate site. We believe this format best conveys our CSR approach and our commitment to creating a strong business and building a better world.

Being transparent on our goals, progress, and reporting challenges as well as successes helps key stakeholders – especially shareholders and socially responsible investors – hold us accountable and track our impact over time.

Our CSR team works in partnership with teams across Target’s enterprise to deliver business and social impact.  Externally, we engage with stakeholders and communities to understand and amplify what works, encourage innovation, and leverage our scale for good.

There are multiple reasons why we publish a CSR Report:

  1. It’s an annual moment for Target to “connect the dots” from the previous year’s efforts to Target’s CSR strategy.
  2. It’s an opportunity for Target to demonstrate commitment to sustainability initiatives and share with stakeholders what being a responsible company means to Target.
  3. It provides a process to consistently assess and reassess opportunities and risks via Target’s material issue focal points.
  4. It also creates a unified message we can direct team members to and serves as a single source of information to build trust with our stakeholders.

We feel it is very important to highlight progress for all goals Target has set – whether we blew them out of the water years earlier, or they are far from being achieved. We set the goals based on what we feel is attainable but not yet in reach. That being said, in some areas the industry changes for better or worse, thereby hindering or advancing progress in unforeseen ways. But that is the nature of goal setting. The beauty of transparency is that being accountable to the results also allows us to tell those real stories about our progress or lack thereof. It also keeps the momentum internally.

Two pieces are critical at the outset of a new goal: 1 – establish a baseline against which you intend to make progress and 2 – create a clear and consistent way of tracking data and progress over time. For our seafood reporting, we relied on the backbone that FishWise created for us in the way they worked with vendors to collect source data for all items in our assortment and validated it.

As it pertains to seafood sustainability and goal setting, time bound and measureable objectives are key.  Being able to show year-over-year progress against a baseline, and being able to speak to this movement (positive or not as positive) is essential to maintaining authenticity and transparency with stakeholders.

Every year we review hundreds of stories, issues, goals, and data points related to business activities related to every area of the company.  We use set guidelines to determine which stories to highlight in the report. For example, we often focus on collaborative projects across the company that highlight the synergies between teams working towards similar goals/initiatives. We also review Target’s materiality, stakeholder engagement process, and goals where we have data to share externally, and align all of the information and data gathered to the UN SDGs in order to share where Target is having a global impact.  Many revisions later, the report comes to life when it is published on Target’s Corporate Site.

The report is formatted in a way that balances the impact of qualitative storytelling with the story that data can tell. We want to be mindful of the audience of the report and make sure it is accessible for all who interact with it. Incorporating our data and metrics, coupled with storytelling, we believe delivers authenticity in a unique way.

At Target, we aim to leverage our size, scale and reach to positively impact the communities in which we operate. Going beyond what we can achieve in our own operations and with our vendors, we collaborate with NGOs (like FishWise), governments, industry organizations and other businesses to innovate solutions to the most pressing issues we face today.

Our buyers and vendors have benefited from the straightforward conversations that can exist between them, given the shared knowledge of the goal we are working toward. External stakeholders have also been attracted to the goal reporting and we have taken pride in the work we’ve all rallied around internally to make this happen.

The business value of transparency is also significant. It allows us to underscore to our community and guests that we are committed to being 100% sustainable in seafood. As we make our final push toward 100% sustainably sourced, we are able to position ourselves even better to become a seafood destination.

Target strives to make the aspirational attainable and our goals reflect the future we hope to achieve.  Our strategy around identifying and establishing goals continues to evolve. So, in addition to the goals we will share in our 2016 report, we are working on additional commitments for the future in seafood. As Target designed its corporate social responsibility strategy to support a better, more sustainable world in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the expansive nature of our business and value chain puts us in a position to directly and indirectly impact each of the SDGs.

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