The other pieces of the puzzle

Why reducing the number of audits is not the only thing on our to do list

Let’s start with the bad news: through audits alone, we will not improve labour practices in our supply chains. I once compared social audits to a spoon: with this one utensil, you cannot expect to make a soup. How are you going to chop the vegetables, boil the water, serve the dish? Who are you making the soup for, and what are their preferences? Just like the spoon alone does not enable you to prepare a soup, audits alone will not create fair labor practices in your supply chain. It would be akin to focusing on an ever more perfect spoon, expecting the soup to now magically work out. You cannot neglect the other elements.

SLCP uses the analogy of a puzzle instead of a soup to make this exact same point. Converging audits to combat audit fatigue is an important step towards fairer, sustainable supply chains. But it is not the only point on our to do list. We need to work on other pieces of the puzzle, too – one piece (or one spoon) alone is not enough to create positive change.

Luckily, there is also good news. We know what those other puzzle pieces are. We have identified them, and increasingly, businesses, standards and initiatives are working on them. This does not mean that another, ‘better’ solution will replace audits. It means that we need to take a more holistic approach to our interaction with suppliers.

How do we then make our soup? Initiatives such as SLCP represent one of the ingredients. By providing accurate and consistent social data, SLCP can eliminate the need for duplicative audits. This can free up the time and resources needed to focus on perfecting other ingredients, such as:

  • Improve your business practices. Most companies still do not practice what they preach and have not integrated their CSR strategy into all elements of their business. This results in different expectations towards suppliers from CSR, purchasing and product development departments. Consistency and trust-based relationships with suppliers are key. Look into the mirror: how consistent is your business towards suppliers?
  • Build on trust(worthy data). In many cases, suppliers have a lot to lose and little to gain from being transparent about their business practices. Their openness during an audit and self-assessments influences the image you have of their performance. Companies have complex supply chains and supplier assessments are based for a large part on data received from auditors or suppliers. How do you make sure you do not miss out on anything? Again, trust is important. Suppliers should feel supported when sharing issues they struggle with, which do not necessarily show up during an audit.
  • Listen to the workers. In the end, they are the ones that should benefit from our efforts. Is there a system in place for them to speak their minds, e.g. through a worker’s committee, grievance mechanism or union? Are their employers hearing their voices, and how can you encourage a healthy relationship between both?

Unfortunately, I cannot list the whole recipe here. It is not an easy one. It is a recipe that involves hard work and requires balancing different tastes and interests. But, as with anything else in the kitchen: practice makes perfect. Just make sure you keep tasting the soup as you go, and adapt the recipe where needed.

 

 

 

 Anne Manschot is a sustainability consultant at Enact Sustainable Strategies and an expert on social compliance and supply chain risk management. She graduated with honours at the Erasmus University Rotterdam for her research on the effectiveness of social compliance auditing and is currently writing a book about the future of social audits.