MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative

Improving the "first-mile" of supply chains

Professor de Zegher works to design and analyze platforms that improve traceability in supply chains throughout emerging economies.

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Professor Joann de Zegher is developing innovative ways to improve traceability and labor conditions in supply chains.

Written by: Tracey Palmer

Her most recent research focuses on two areas: developing innovative approaches to traceability in the first-mile of commodity supply chains, like palm oil, and mitigating forced labor in seafood supply chains.

"Supply chain management has a significant impact on key social and environmental challenges, like deforestation, ocean conservation, and forced labor,” says Joann. “A company’s supply chain determines nearly 80% of its environmental impact and supply chains that traverse national borders employ over one-in-five workers.”  

The trouble is that we can’t manage what we can’t measure, or even see. In Indonesia, for example, half the palm oil comes from smallholder farmers whose business is off the grid and hard to trace. 

Joann’s innovation was to achieve that traceability as a byproduct of some more basic improvements to smallholder businesses. She figured out that if she gave farmers digital tools to help them access new markets and better prices for their products, in the process, she could get digital traceability of their supply chains, and help those farmers make improvements.

The outcome? Farmers get rewarded for implementing sustainable supply chain best practices, and groundbreaking research on the “first mile” of global supply chains.

Joann joined the MIT Sloan faculty in 2018, and found herself at home in the Sustainability Initiative. When she isn’t doing research in the field or at MIT, she’s teaching our S-Lab students and sharing her latest findings with them.

 "The approach and core values of the Sustainability Initiative align strongly with mine, and S-Lab is the type of class I have always wanted to be a part of."

Joann came to us from Stanford University, where she was a postdoctoral fellow in operations, information, and technology. She also holds a PhD from Stanford and an MS in econometrics and management science from Erasmus University Rotterdam.  

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Joann de Zegher

Joann de Zegher

Maurice F. Strong Career Development Professor

Featured Publications

"Sustaining Rainforests and Smallholders by Eliminating Payment Delay in a Commodity Supply Chain–It Takes a Village."

de Zegher Joann, Dan Iancu, and Erica Plambeck, Working Paper. December 2019.

"Designing Contracts and Sourcing Channels to Create Shared Value."

de Zegher, Joann F., Dan A. Iancu, and Hau L. Lee. Manufacturing & Service Operations Management Vol. 21, No. 2 (2019): 271-289. Online Appendix.

"Companies’ Contribution to Sustainability Through Global Supply Chains."

Thorlakson, Tannis, Joann F. de Zegher, and Eric F. Lambin. Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences Vol. 115, No. 9 (2018): 2072-2077. Stanford Policy Research Brief. Sustainable Brands. GreenBiz. Science 360. Stanford News. Science Daily. Download Paper.

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