The International Labour Organization is a United Nations agency. Lehigh and ILO worked together to host a webinar called "Sustainability of the Global Supply Chain” on April 22, 2020. (Courtesy of Lehigh University)

Lehigh-led webinar discusses volatility of global supply chain

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Lehigh, in tandem with the International Labour Organization, presented a webinar titled “Sustainability of the Global Supply Chain” on April 22.

The webinar was created in preparation for the pilot Model ILO event, which is similar to Model United Nations events held for high school and college students nationwide. The event was planned by Bill Hunter, director of the Office of Fellowship Advising and U.N. Programs, and it was hosted by Kevin Cassidy, director of the ILO office for the United States.  

“As (the ILO) were preparing to launch this, they looked for one university in the world to become the pilot site to host the first ever Model ILO simulation,” Hunter said. “To our absolute delight, they chose Lehigh.” 

The in-person Model ILO event was canceled when COVID-19 forced Lehigh to close campus. Soon after the shut down, planning for an online webinar began. The team worked to mirror the plans of the initial event, which were centered around the future of global supply chains. 

Attendees included Lehigh students and faculty, as well as U.N. officials, government employees and other international parties.

“Our goal was to have 100 participants in this, and… we are at 308,” Hunter said.

Lehigh has been a designated Nongovernmental Organization with the U.N. since 2004, and in that time, about 15,000 students and faculty have been directly engaged with U.N. programming, Hunter said. 

The webinar presenters included Zach Zacharia, an associate professor of supply chain management and director of the Center for Supply Chain Research at Lehigh; Cathy Feingold, director of the AFL-CIO’s International Department; Ashley Orbach, manager of  the Human Rights and Engagement Team in Apple’s Operations group; and Colin Fenwick, head of the Labour Law and Reform Unit of the ILO.

Each presenter spoke about global supply chains based on personal experience and expertise in their respective fields. The pandemic was a large talking point for the presenters.

Zacharia introduced the topic of global supply chains to the audience and laid the groundwork for the other presenters to then build on. 

He said COVID-19 is known as a “black swan,” a large-scale event that will shift how most global supply chains will look moving forward. The topic of public health will now be prevalent in the conversation of how global supply chains function and how laborers will work in them.

“The new normal has changed, and we need to be prepared to make changes in the way we do things so we will be capable of surviving and prospering in this new environment,” Zacharia said in his closing remarks.

Other discussion points included modern slavery laws in respects to global supply chains, how Apple looks at the materials being used in the supply chain of products and how the ILO works to implement treaties created to improve working environments.

Cassidy said people will see tremendous innovation following the pandemic.  

“The benefit the ILO brings to these discussions is its history,” Cassidy said. “We have 100 years working on labor issues, and also we were at the beginning of the capitalist system.”

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