Global utilities companies need to do more to tackle risks associated with their suppliers, as many have admitted to awarding contracts to main contractors without having critical information about how they do business. 

The global utilities industry supply chain is developing fast with an ever increasing emphasis on innovation and efficiency.  This is driven by sector developments such as a near-record $310bn investment in renewables alone.

Yet despite the high profile, often safety critical nature of the work, research shows many utilities firms are failing to carry out basic due diligence on suppliers.
One in three utilities companies said they issue tenders or contracts to main suppliers without having an anti-bribery and corruption policy in place. About one in five firms do not have their main suppliers’ financial reports before procuring goods or services and one in 10 do not have health and safety policies for their main suppliers.

In addition, utilities companies are open to further risk because they are not checking the information that is provided by suppliers – either via desktop checks or on-site audits.

More than half of utilities companies said they did not conduct basic checks, such as internet research or making telephone calls, to check anti-bribery and corruption information provided by their main contractors. About one third did not check health and safety policies and one third did not verify financial reports. The figures were lower still for physical audits.

Utilities firms which take a relaxed approach to checking suppliers’ credentials were risking their reputation and opportunities to improve their businesses.

It is concerning to see that one in three utilities companies does not have bribery and corruption policies for main suppliers. In a safety critical industry, it is vitally important for utilities firms to carry out effective due diligence on suppliers. Tackling bribery and corruption and ensuring health and safety are mandatory and companies that fail to do so are risking financial and reputational damage.

In our experience working in the utilities sector, the best practice approach for buying organisations is to carry out due diligence proactively – screening suppliers in advance of awarding a contract.

Our research also found almost one third of utilities companies did not conduct any supplier site visits to check contractors were operating in accordance with statements made in their health and safety, anti-bribery and corruption, and financial documents.

In total 42% of utilities companies globally did not perform health and safety audits; 66% of utilities companies globally did not carry out checks on financial reports; and 75% of utilities companies globally did not perform anti-bribery and corruption audits.

Without a site audit, utilities companies are trusting that suppliers are acting in accordance with their own policies. It leaves them open to paying ‘lip service’ to being responsible. We estimate that businesses worldwide are spending US$60bn on managing information about their suppliers – yet this survey shows this spend is ineffective.

In our experience it is up to 10 times more efficient if businesses establish standards of suppliers and then work collaboratively to share the administrative burden of gathering, managing and updating supplier information.

Tom Grand, Achilles UK Regional Director has responsibility for Achilles UVDB, a UK-based supplier information community, used by the majority of utilities firms to pre-qualify suppliers, manage risks, audit suppliers and ensure compliance to regional and EU rules.