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By Carolyn Lim

With a few minutes to go before the supplier workshop begins, the supplier engagement team were busy greeting our suppliers, as if they were meeting old friends. These people came from operations that are located all over Indonesia.

“You see that young man over there? He is the grandson of the owner. His presence is a good sign,” said my colleague, who was scanning the group for familiar faces.

Personally connecting with our suppliers on a meaningful level goes a long way in seeking behavioural change and for a powerful relationship with our suppliers – the type that can be trusted to endure and to deliver results when needed – crucial to transforming business-as-usual on the ground.

“Very often, salesmanship is part of the job. You can’t force the suppliers to change their habits overnight. You need to convince them that the business reality is changing and that they will need to change too,” added my colleague.

Our supplier workshops usually start by building a shared understanding of the relationship between our company and our suppliers, setting an expectation that we depend on each other for individual and mutual success. Together, we need to show to the world that Indonesian Palm Oil can be sustainable too, and we can secure a wider market demand.

Each time, my colleagues from the supplier engagement team will introduce a new idea that would take the suppliers a notch higher in their sustainability milestone. For this workshop, we were trying to persuade our suppliers that they would have to work on an action plan that includes traceability and definitive workstreams that fulfil the elements of an NDPE policy.

Five years of implementing our Sustainability Policy has taught us that the best chance to succeed is to approach challenges that recognise the human needs behind the technicalities. The best HCS-HCV assessment, supplier assessment and gap analysis or verification process will not work if the humans who are implementing are not convinced.

At the heart of our supplier engagement is a quest to build powerful relationships. Powerful relationships do not emerge overnight, nor are they destroyed overnight. While these relationships have their bouts of discord and disagreement, yet each person remains mindful of the overall significance of the relationship and is willing to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Only then can we hope to build momentum to make sustainable Palm Oil truly the norm.