Last week, the Associated Press picked up on an interesting procurement story: the Girl Scouts of the USA were seeking bids for the uniforms they currently buy from an American supplier in New Jersey. Among the four bidders invited to participate, two were from outside the USA including one from China.

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The fact that an organization is evaluating all of its global sourcing options isn’t exactly what I consider controversial news – outsourcing to China has been going on for decades and became mainstream practice at least 10 years ago – it has certainly gotten some attention in the media and among political leaders. US Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) wrote a passionate plea to the President of the Girl Scouts, saying that he is dismayed that the Girl Scouts “would even think of moving their business from a family-run and veteran-owned small business in New Jersey to China.” Should the work be offshored, Congressman Pascrell calims that it will cost the US some 90 jobs.

Though the media and political leaders are practically characterizing the Girl Scouts’ sourcing initiative as villainous, the Girl Scouts are defending their actions as “good business practices.” The Girl Scouts’ Vice President and General Manager of Merchandise, Barry Horowitz, was quoted as saying, “Like any manufacturer who uses fabric, we have an obligation to deliver the best value to our members and their parents. We can’t know if we’re doing that unless we test the market.”

It’s really hard to argue with that logic. However, amidst his incredulous expressions of emotion in his letter, Congressman Pascrell does actually touch on a couple of important issues.

First, he notes that he was told by the incumbent supplier, Jackie Evans, Inc., “that they have never missed a delivery deadline.” He goes on to stress that lower prices may come as a trade-off for lower quality and suspect social responsibility, writing that “our American Girl Scouts could soon be wearing uniforms made abroad in part by young girls who would be deemed not old enough to work in the United States.” He advises the Girl Scouts to “consider factors other than just simply the bottom line cost of production.”

All very valid points and surprising coming from a politician (sorry, I’m a little bit jaded when it comes to our elected leaders). But in the Congressman’s words, you will find criteria that should be considered in every supplier selection: quality and delivery performance and social responsibility right alongside cost.

The Girl Scouts claim to recognize this with Horowitz saying “We have a strict arrangement with vendors that they need to ensure that all appropriate laws are adhered to…We’re very rigid about who does our work.” That, I’m not convinced of. Someone from Mattel probably said the same thing prior to that big lead-painted toys scandal of a few years ago.

If the Girl Scouts select a Chinese supplier, will they conduct periodic, surprise on-site audits to confirm compliance with their supplier code of conduct? Or will they just give the supplier the rules and trust that they will be complied with like so many other organizations ill-advisedly do?

It sounds like we’ll find out soon as the Girl Scouts expect to complete this sourcing process by the end of the year.

To Your Career,
Charles Dominick, SPSM
President & Chief Procurement Officer
Next Level Purchasing, Inc.
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Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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