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Competing National Standards within a Globalized World

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This is a very interesting discussion about national standards within the global supply chain. Australia is actually shipping live cattle to Vietnam for slaughter and processing because it is cheaper to do. But in Vietnam, cattle are killed by being beaten in the head with a sledgehammer. That’s outraged parts of the Australian public.

Recent revelations about the sledgehammering to death of what seem to be Australian cattle in Vietnam provide further evidence of the government’s inability to control how exported livestock are slaughtered overseas.

An Animals Australia investigation reported by ABC’s 7.30 showed what are reportedly Australian cattle being slaughtered in three abattoirs. Australia has suspended trade to the facilities while they are investigated.

The government’s tool to try to ensure humane slaughter is known as the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS). This requires cattle to be killed in accordance with World Animal Health Organisation standards. Killing cattle by hitting with a sledgehammer, although common practice in Vietnam, is not allowed by the standards.

The other requirements of ESCAS offer little reassurance to the Australian community that welfare will be safeguarded. Under the standards, cattle must be traced. This means we should know which cattle are Australian, and be able to control and audit the supply chain.

There are problems with this model. Supply-chain control is desirable but potentially contravenes the principles of the World Trade Organisation. Auditing is only as good as the manner in which it is undertaken, and there has been much recent debate about this.

I’m personally less concerned over the animal welfare side of this essay, which is its real point, as I am the larger question of supply chain standards. To what extent should companies be able to take advantage of different methods and laws between countries to maximize profit? Does the fact that a company is Australian or American or Canadian mean that they should have to operate by the laws of their home nation no matter where they operate? What role should the citizens of the home countries have in determining corporate behavior overseas? If it’s so cheap for Australia to ship that cattle to Vietnam, is it therefore their responsibility to build facilities humanely slaughtering that cattle? These are the core questions of globalization and supply chains. My own positions on these issues are clear enough and I think that we all need to think through the supply chain and make taming it a core progressive priority.

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