If You Spend a Week with Your Carrier’s Driver

But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes

— Lyrics from “Walking in My Shoes” by Depeche Mode

Last week, BBC News published an article highlighting the poor conditions and low pay drivers who haul freight for IKEA and other retailers in Western Europe have to deal with, particularly drivers brought over from poorer countries by trucking firms based in Eastern Europe. Here are some excerpts from the article:

Romanian driver Emilian spends up to four months at a time sleeping, eating and washing in his truck. He moves goods for Ikea around Western Europe, and had been in Denmark most recently.

He says the salary he takes home is a monthly average of 477 euros [$512].

A Danish driver can expect to take home an average of 2,200 euros [$2,361] a month in salary.

EU rules state that a driver posted temporarily away from home should be ”guaranteed” the host nation’s ”minimum rates of pay” and conditions. But companies can exploit loopholes in the law.

Simply put, with the little money they get paid, these drivers cannot afford to sleep anywhere but their trucks, they cannot afford to eat out, and they’re often without access to toilets or running water.

Emilian’s message to IKEA: “Come and live with me for one week. Eat what I eat. See what is happening in reality with our lives.”

For its part, IKEA said “it takes what drivers have told the BBC ‘very seriously’ and are ‘saddened by the testimonies,’” according to the article. The company said “it puts ‘strict demands’ on its suppliers concerning wages, working conditions and following applicable legislation, and audits them regularly to check compliance.”

Apparently, those audits aren’t working very well.

I would like to think that the situation here in the U.S. is not as bad as in Europe (there isn’t a similar source of “cheap labor” drivers here — or you can argue that all drivers are equally underpaid here), but drivers in the U.S. face a myriad of challenges and hardships too, such as finding a safe parking spot to spend the night or being detained for hours at a pickup or delivery location without getting paid.

Back to IKEA, this situation puts the spotlight on a lesson many companies are learning the hard way: when it comes to creating and maintaining socially-responsible supply chains, you can’t outsource the responsibility; the buck ultimately stops with you, the brand owner. You have to see and walk your supply chain, from start to finish, with your own eyes and feet. (For related commentary, see Can You Have Supply Chain Visibility Without Responsibility?)

It also raises an important question: How effective is your supplier audit process, especially for carriers? Based on stories like this — as well those involving slave labor, the use of conflict minerals, and safety and environmental incidents — it seems like there’s a lot of room for improvement here.

And when it comes to trucking, maybe it’s time to augment your carrier scorecard — that is, add metrics related to how your carriers pay and treat their drivers, and also put in the processes necessary to capture, verify, and track that information.

(While you’re at it, you should ask your carriers and their drivers to scorecard you as a shipper. To put it bluntly, are you a carrier-friendly shipper or a pain in the ass to do business with? For related commentary, see What Carriers Look For in Shippers.)

If you spend a week with your carrier’s driver, what would you learn? There’s only one way to find out: try walking in their shoes.

Leave the comfort of your office, climb into the passenger seat of a truck cab, and hit the road.