Is This The Strangest Supply Chain In The World?

Scotland to China and back, have you heard of a stranger route to your plate?



It is one of the oldest forms of feeding yourself and others. It is also now a multi-billion dollar business around the world. The idea behind fishing should be simple, fish are caught, filleted quickly, then sent on to be sold either frozen or fresh.

This is not the case with one of Scotland’s most iconic fish though.

Salmon and cod are associated with Scotland more than perhaps any other fish and they are one of the biggest exports from the country. When people pick up Scottish fish from supermarket shelves it is under the impression that they are ‘buying British’, helping other Britons who are involved in the supply chain.

However, it came to light in recent years that some Scottish fish has one of the most bizarre supply chains in the world.

After being caught, the fish are frozen then sent over 5,000 miles to China. They are then unfrozen, filleted by workers who are paid less than £1 per day, then sent back to the UK for distribution the unfrozen before appearing on supermarket shelves.

This is purely a cost saving measure rather than having any practical purpose. Rather than paying the minimum wage in Scotland (£6.50/$10.39) it is cheaper to transport the fish to the other side of the world, then send them back after filleting.

It is not the only Scottish product to have overly complicated supply chains. It has been reported that Scottish whisky is sent to Australia to be bottled, before being sent back to Scotland for consumption.

Companies would argue that their primary goal is making as much profit as possible for their shareholders whilst providing their customers with competitively priced products. But where does the point come where social responsibilities should outweigh profit?

Supply chains have become global and companies can take advantage of this to help improve profitability or spread products to new countries. However, when it comes to extremes like those that we find with Scottish produce, it is worth considering the damage that it could be doing to both local economies and the environment.

With jobs being given to the local population, the company would be better supported by the local community, meaning that expansion in the area would be better received and more likely to go ahead. It would also keep the CSO of the company far cleaner. Paying workers £1 per day is not good PR for any company as the only people who really benefit from that deal are those at the top of the chain.

Equally, the pollution caused by a ship travelling thousands of miles to do a job that could be easily done within metres of where the product is initially produced, is going to be unnecessary.

Supply chains today are looked at not just in terms of speed and profitability, but in sustainability and social responsibility. Nobody wants to buy from a company who seem to disregard both of these in order to save money. Localised supply chains are growing increasingly popular too. Local produce is a label that many want to see on their food and have the idea that this reflects a short supply chain to their basket. When this is shown to be untrue it can cause issues. Consumers like transparency and will stop using a product that they feel has breached their trust.

Equally, in the short term, having a long supply chain that incurs fewer costs may be better, however as everybody knows the longer the chain, the increased likelihood of a break. With these items being sent thousands of miles, they are increasing risk even if they are increasing profit. The longer the product is in transit, the chances of contamination, loss or even piracy increases.

So is it worth having a supply chain that on the surface seems so counter-logical?

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