The Five W’s of Supply Chains: Who, What, Where, When and Why Corporations Should Care


Friday, May 24, 2019

Not a month goes by without a media campaign linking the supply chain of a well-known brand with unsavory labor practices or environmental mismanagement. Such exposés can devalue brands and reduce well-meaning corporate sustainability initiatives to hypocrisy. Beyond financial and reputational risks, a corporation that doesn’t know its supply chain can be caught flat-footed when the regions it sources from are rocked by political and environmental upheaval.

Answering the five Ws of their supply chain allows companies to reduce these risks and simultaneously address unsustainable practices related to their business. Every high school student knows the five Ws: who, what, where, when and why . These are the key exploratory questions to ask when tackling any problem.

Yet research has shown time and again that corporations often cannot answer the five Ws of their supply chain beyond their immediate suppliers. The rampant outsourcing, supplier fluidity and vast distances that typify modern production make answering the five Ws a formidable task for any corporation. Operating in this information vacuum minimizes corporations’ agency and maximizes risk…