Commentary: Artificial intelligence can positively impact supply chain management if it internalises knowledge re human rights

Author: Emre Eren Korkmaz, University of Oxford, Published on: 20 March 2018

"How might artificial intelligence transform corporate sustainability policies?" 20 March 2018

Far little attention has been paid to the potential of AI to address labour and human rights issues... [h]owever it is clear that AI will directly affect the existing relationships between TNCs, their suppliers, workers and customers... AI can analyse a vast amount of data very quickly and offer summary judgements that can be used to inform decision making. However, a primary concern in this context is the extent to which AI analysis can be relied upon to produce objective judgments that do not simply reproduce and legitimise existing discrimination or inequalities.

...Such ethical concerns are salient in industrial relations between social actors [in supply chains]... [I]f AI begins to play a role in the decisions made by TNCs about their suppliers (which supplier should get what order volume), then we need to answer the question: 'How can suppliers and workers/trade unions participate in this process?... This discussion shows that a central issue will be how to teach machines about human and labour rights... While [suppliers] try to lower prices and force suppliers to deliver goods as quickly as possible, sustainability departments ask suppliers to invest in promoting working conditions and recognise the fundamental rights of workers, including the rights to organise and bargain collectively. AI could provide better coordination better various departments and, based on the pre-determined principles and rules, could reward local suppliers that invest in sustainability as well... If AI internalises accumulated knowledge about 'business and human rights' and allows other social actors to track its decision-making process, then AI could even promote the due diligence approach.

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