Reducing duplicate audits allows more focus on improved working conditions

A Social and Labour Convergence project was launched today that aims to work toward reducing the number of social audits in the apparel and footwear industry. By developing an industry-wide, standardized methodology for social and labour performance assessment in apparel and footwear supply chains, the path is cleared for effective and lasting changes in working conditions.

In support of the launch, a public statement was released (PDF) that was signed by leading brands, retailers, industry groups and civil society organizations. The statement calls for all relevant stakeholders to collaborate on a standardized assessment. Broad support is key to the success of this social convergence project.

Marieke Weerdesteijn, programme manager sustainable textiles at Solidaridad, stands firmly behind this shift in sustainability interventions. We warmly welcome the convergence project. According to the World Trade Organization, world exports in clothing and textiles reached nearly $800 billion in 2013. It is estimated that more than $1 billion annually is spent on social compliance audits in China alone. There is a lot of redundancy in social auditing. Dramatically reducing the number of audits by using one common assessment would allow for redirecting time and money towards improving working conditions in the apparel sector. The textile sector needs to focus more on continuous improvement rather than compliance," she said.

The growth of the audit industry

Since the 80s, there has been a growing awareness of the poor conditions under which clothing is sometimes made. In order to address concerns around topics like child labour, forced labour, excessive working hours and poor wages in the supply chain, most brands and retailers introduced social compliance systems to monitor working conditions, which usually consist of codes of conduct and audits.

In the past 20 years, these compliance systems have raised awareness of the issues and the need for improvements. To some extent, they have resulted in positive effects and better working conditions. However, the human rights violations that still occur in the apparel industry also show there is still a long way to go.

The many different approaches that emerged have led to a situation where the majority of factories supplying goods to multiple brands and retailers are audited several times a year. The signatories of the statement are convinced that new initiative will lead to a significant reduction in time and money spent on duplicated auditing, allowing for investments in improving working in the apparel supply chain.

For the official statement, please refer to the Sustainability Apparel Coalition (SAC) website.