People Behind CSR at Cisco: How It's Made Matters

Apr 6, 2021 9:15 AM ET
Blog

We have created a new blog series that will focus on the people behind Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Cisco. Each blog in this series will highlight a different Cisco employee who works closely with CSR initiatives across the company.

Maria Gorsuch-Kennedy leads the Supply Chain Social and Environmental Responsibility team at Cisco. After studying anthropology, her career journey took her on many paths, from social services to web development, corporate affairs, public policy, and sustainability reporting. She joined Cisco because the culture appealed to her, and she and her team work hard to make sure that Cisco’s products are made in a way that aligns with our values.

I sat down with Maria to learn more about her work and how supply chain sustainability is an essential element in Cisco’s purpose to power an inclusive future for all where everyone can thrive.

Can you tell me more about yourself and your job responsibilities at Cisco?

I lead the Supply Chain Social and Environmental Responsibility team. The ability to make a positive impact for people and ecosystems through supply chain is tremendous. We explore different issues such as, are workers’ human rights respected? Do they have a voice in the workplace? Do they feel excited about their future? On the environmental side, are we preventing pollution? Are we promoting reduction of waste and increased use of renewable resources and energy?

Because when you are sourcing a product through global supply chains, there are real risks and impacts on people in ecosystems worldwide, no matter what the industry. Our team’s work is to understand those risks and fix them, or better yet, prevent them. And if people work in our supply chain or live in a community near one of our suppliers, our opportunity is to make that the best place to be.

We like to talk about how we are changing the world with Cisco technology. But in the context of supply chain, how it’s made matters. For example, minerals are central to the products we make, but mining in certain parts of the world is associated with human rights issues or environmental degradation. Our team works tirelessly with our sourcing teams and suppliers to get bad actors out of our mineral supply chain and keep them out. At the same time, we’re looking at ways to invest in communities where we can promote responsible mining practices and pave the way for those minerals to get out to a global marketplace. Altogether we look to mitigate risk and open the opportunity for more responsible trade to flourish.

Cisco works with hundreds of suppliers around the world, including manufacturing partners, component suppliers, and logistics partners. We were ranked number one in Gartner’s Supply Chain Top 25 in 2020 for our leading practices in supply chain management, including environmental and social issues. I think that’s an accurate reflection of Cisco’s culture and how we do business.

Can you explain how supply chain sustainability plays an important role when it comes to corporate social responsibility?

Cisco is delivering products that enable customers and partners to do amazing things. The manufacturer of these products must be consistent with Cisco’s commitment to upholding human rights, promoting worker health and well-being, and advancing environmental stewardship. What we do in supply chain is a core element of corporate social responsibility. Because if you are a responsible company, you are making sure that your own operations, and the areas outside your four walls where you have influence, are maximizing the positive benefits and minimizing the negative impacts for people and ecosystems.

Generally speaking, workers in global electronic supply chains are at risk for certain working conditions, including poor health and safety or excessive working hours. There are also classes of what we call vulnerable workers, such as foreign migrant workers or students who might be more vulnerable to certain kinds of exploitation. It is our responsibility to make sure that our supply chain is operating consistently in a way that aligns with our values and protects people’s rights, health, and well-being.

We also started a pilot program at one of our supplier sites, where we bring Cisco Networking Academy courses to train production workers with new IT skills. We’ve seen that these workers are excited about getting this training that can lead to new career opportunities. We’re always looking to see what can we bring that’s unique to Cisco that’s going to improve the lives of workers in our supply chain.

Can you share more about Cisco’s values and how it is connected to how our product are made?

When it comes to Cisco’s supply chain aligning with our company’s values, we have programs that focus on our Supplier Code of Conduct, human rights, responsible minerals, and environmental stewardship. It’s not only about doing the right thing and feeling good about how we do business at Cisco. Customers want responsibly made products. Investors want to know that we’re sustainable. Regulators are increasingly demanding evidence that we’re managing social and environmental risk. And workers in our supply chain, like workers anywhere, want positive working conditions.

A core element of our work is our participation in the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA).We use the RBA Code of Conduct, which sets standards for labor, health and safety, environmental, ethics, and management systems. We hold our suppliers accountable to that code. They report to us how they meet the code, we audit their conformance to the code, and if there are problems, we work with the supplier to fix them. By using industry-standard due diligence tools and programs and collaborating with our peers in the RBA to advance responsible supply chains, we’re able to drive impact globally.

We also partner on specific risks and issues in our supply chain. For example, we are members of the Clean Electronics Production Network (CEPN). We’re promoting the safer use of chemicals in manufacturing, to make sure that workers are not exposed to hazardous chemicals that could impact their health.

 In addition to the people element, there is the environmental aspect, which includes how our suppliers are handling waste, pollution, water, and energy. Risks include incorrectly disposing of hazardous substances or dumping inadequately treated wastewater. Ensuring proper environmental management is a responsibility to the ecosystem and it also impacts the people who live nearby our suppliers. Unfortunately, waste and water issues often disproportionately affect the poor. Environmental stewardship is also a social justice issue.

We’ve done extensive work around pollution in China, preventing air, water, and soil pollution. This initiative led to Cisco being named #1 in the IT industry on the Green Supply Chain CITI Evaluation in 2020. We’ve also done some exciting work this year about understanding water risk and identifying the most significant water impacts in our supply chain. By identifying the most significant water consumers in our supply chain, we can direct some interventions with those suppliers and promote cleaner watersheds and river basins. And we have set goals as a company to reduce supply chain greenhouse gas emissions and promote zero waste manufacturing.

We know it takes a team to make an impact. Can you tell us more about the people within supply chain who help you do this work?  

We have commitment and support from across our supply chain operations, from the executives that support and guide the strategy to the directors who are helping drive these requirements to their teams and the sourcing teams who help hold the suppliers accountable. We have tremendous support throughout the company.

The Cisco Responsible Sourcing campaign is raising internal awareness of our commitment to source products ethically and sustainably. One element of the campaign is our Champions of Sustainability, a recognition program that highlights the people behind responsible sourcing at Cisco. One of those champions is Tommy Hwa, a Partner Manager in our supply chain organization based out of Taipei, Taiwan. He recently shared in our Cisco 2020 Impact Report how he is motivated to do good deeds not only for Cisco but for all of society. Champions like Tommy show a commitment to sustainability and social and environmental responsibility in a way that I genuinely admire.

Do you have any advice for anyone interested in a career within supply chain?

One thing that appealed to me about being at Cisco and doing this type of work is that at Cisco, people really care about running a world-class supply chain. So, if you want to work in supply chain at Cisco, be ready to come in, work hard, have a good time, and get a lot done. You’ll get to work with people who are committed and care about the work that they’re doing, and ensure that work is done in a way that is ethical and right. And if you’re interested in learning more about Cisco’s work for sustainable supply chains, you can read more about it on the “Circular Economy and Supply Chain Excellence” section of cisco.com, or visit our Supply Chain Sustainability website.