Our suppliers

Sustainable sourcing, long-term relationships, active monitoring

Our suppliers

Sustainable sourcing

Timber management and chain of custody, shared values throughout the supply chain

Over 75% of our products are wood or wood-based, and we're responsible for making sure that it is legally harvested and comes from sustainable sources.

In 2016 we used 225,000 cubic metres of chipboard and 33,000 cubic metres of MDF in our factories. All of this came from FSC® (the Forest Stewardship Council®) certified sources and all of the products that we manufacture ourselves hold the FSC chain of custody certification (license code FSC-C019676). This means that the wood comes from responsibly managed forests and that we have independent documented evidence of an unbroken chain of ownership all the way from the forest to us, via the mill, the importer, and our suppliers.

74% of our total timber products are from certified sources (FSC or PEFC™ - the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) with 100% of our internally manufactured timber products made from FSC certified materials. We have been approved by the Timber Trade Federation as having an environmental due diligence system in place which complies with their Responsible Purchasing Policy.

We aim to source our bought-in products to the same standards as the products we manufacture ourselves. One of the metrics we use to monitor our progress in this area is the percentage of kitchen ranges which are entirely FSC compliant. A typical kitchen range will consist of a combination of items which we have manufactured ourselves and other items which we have bought in. A range is only entirely FSC-compliant if every individual component in that range is FSC certified. At the end of 2016, 74% of our kitchen ranges met this standard, which is an increase of 24% since 2011.

We only want to work with suppliers who share our ethical values. We are clear about our expectations and our standards and our aim is that they run through our whole supply chain. Every year we gather our main suppliers together at a conference to talk about the issues that affect us and them. As well as talking to them about product development, we use this as an opportunity to repeat and reinforce our expectations for sustainability and ethical behaviour. We tell them what we need from them and we work together to come up with solutions.

Long-term relationships

Worthwhile for all, built on respect, securing supply

As a purchaser of goods and services, we have a big impact on the livelihoods of our supplier network. We recognise that our relationships across the business need to be worthwhile for all concerned, and this includes our suppliers. We look to develop long-term relationships with our suppliers which are built on mutual respect and which allow us all to develop our businesses and prosper together. We work with our suppliers to set an agenda for the next few years. This might involve projects to improve quality, reliability and cost of production, or it might be developing and testing new products. In all cases, these projects will only work in the long term if they bring benefits to both parties.

Over the last five years, two of our collaborations with suppliers have resulted in us jointly winning the prestigious British Woodworking Federation product innovation award for developing groundbreaking new door technologies that we hope will benefit both us and our suppliers for years to come. The first example was the project behind our unique Burford door. This involved a significant financial investment from our supplier in order to develop new tooling. It also required mutual trust and respect as we worked together to solve problems and come up with a door technology which is unique to Howdens, sells at a premium price, and is still in our product range five years after its development.

A second example was the award-winning work we have done with another of our suppliers in 2016 to develop the technology to produce a quick-fit internal door. This is a door which allows the builder to adjust the width of the door without needing to trim it, thus saving him time. We trialled this door in some of our depots in 2016 and have already extended the trial in 2017 due to high demand.

We also work with our suppliers with the aim of securing our future supply. As an example, our packaging supplier set up a factory next to our Runcorn site which provides us with just-in-time deliveries at 30 minutes' notice. They were able to make this investment in their own business because we had committed to a long term supply agreement with them. This benefits the supplier, benefits our shareholders, and benefits the environment as it reduces transport miles.

Active monitoring

Supplier assessments, training our people, risk-based testing

We take care to select suppliers with high ethical standards and we make it clear that we expect them to uphold those standards. We require them to confirm that they are operating ethically, and we gather evidence to support what they say.

We have a self-assessment process for our suppliers which includes assessing their corporate and social responsibility practices. As part of this we ask them how they manage areas such as health and safety, the environment, sustainability, ethical sourcing and product compliance. They have to provide evidence to substantiate their answers and we have a dedicated compliance team who validate the answers and the evidence. In 2016 we have validated all of our 180 direct manufacturing suppliers.

Our own people have a personal responsibility to understand and demonstrate best practice and integrity, so we've given them training to support them in their dealings with suppliers. During 2016 all of our buyers and our compliance team have taken the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply's Ethical Procurement & Supply training. This training is designed to give them an understanding of the fundamentals of ethical behaviour when selecting and managing suppliers. At the end of the training they had to pass a comprehensive assessment as well as making a personal commitment to upholding the CIPS Code of Conduct.

Our due diligence systems rely on suppliers accurately declaring what types of wood are being used and where that wood comes from. To give us extra assurance, we carry out additional checks. We select samples of wood and send them for independent microscopy testing at a leading independent research institute. This analysis can prove what type of wood it is. We are currently evaluating the use of an emerging technology which, when it is developed and ready for use, could tell us both the species of wood and also where in the world it comes from.

There is more information about the work we do to safeguard against human rights violations in both our own business and our supply chain in our modern slavery statement.