Within the industry, the question is often ‘how can brands move away from auditing and towards a more productive, sustainable model?’
Whilst concerns over audit fatigue and the inefficiencies of having so many different client codes are valid, there is still great value in social compliance auditing. Performed under the correct conditions, a robust audit program provides the most effective window into workplace conditions across your supply chain. In fact, the most socially responsible brands in the world, leaders within the industry, rely upon factory auditing, investing significantly in their programs, realizing its essential value.
The lack of sufficient progress in workplace conditions is not the fault of auditing, per se. Instead, it is, in part, due to how audits are actually performed, leveraged and integrated into brands’ commercial practices. Instead of ‘how can the industry move away from supplier auditing?’ the question should be ‘how can we utilize auditing more effectively?’
There are many examples of social compliance audits being utilized exceptionally well. One large manufacturing group, for example, performs internal audits upon its own factories. Issues, such as working hours, are identified by the audit then elevated to the clients, large apparel brands, who, with all the facts, make an informed decision to extend shipment windows, relieving pressures on working hours, or remain on course. The manufacturing group also analyzes its clients buying practices, reviewing how they impact social compliance, and makes recommendations to buyers based on practical examples. These cases though are rare, occurring at the margins, due, largely, to an absence of trust between all parties as well as the important issue of transparency.
While the industry isn’t ready for this model, significant improvements can still be made to strengthen the auditing process. Across the industry, the role of auditing, within a responsible sourcing program, needs to be defined more clearly. Too often auditing and remediation are conflated. The result being that unreasonable expectations are appropriated upon the auditing party. While remediation / capacity building are important functions of a responsible sourcing program, social compliance auditing serves a different purpose and should operate separately. Audits should be performed by specialist auditors, providing a window into the actual conditions on the ground. After this baseline assessment, brands should then assess the circumstances of each factory; business relationship, shipment volume, as well as the types of issues identified, before deciding whether to invest in a remediation / capacity building program. These programs should then be managed by specialist consultants, in close partnership with brands’ ethical, and, ultimately, sourcing departments, responsible for leveraging relationships, by rewarding progress with business, or developing exit plans should corrective actions fail to be implemented.
Factories should take ownership of their own compliance programs. However, before this is possible, suppliers must have the requisite knowledge of, and experience in, social compliance and remediation. Once they have reached this level they can then be charged with developing their own management systems. Re-audits, performed by specialist auditors, should be performed to ensure that their systems are sustainable.
Crucial to any success though is transparency. If factories do not produce authentic wage and working hour records then the effectiveness of any audit and/or remediation program is severely handicapped. Key to any success in obtaining authentic records is the clear communication, on the part of the brands, that falsified records are unacceptable and that, in return for access to authentic documentation, the brand shall work with suppliers to reduce deficiencies, such as working hours, within an attainable timeframe. Omega works with a number of brands who have adopted this approach and has seen gains in access to authentic records by up to 30%.
Omega has vast experience in developing and managing social compliance audits programs across global supply chains. Should you wish to learn more about our services please contact us.