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14 Aug 2020

Sophie Turner, Leigh Day

Commentary: Ethical Certifications - can we really trust them?

An excellent recent report by the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity at Harvard Law School [...] finds that [...] certification schemes are failing to have a positive impact on the conduct of companies and, on the contrary, may serve to entrench abusive business practices...

The report further notes that monitoring and compliance are inadequate: the schemes are not properly set up to detect human rights abuses at source.
This latter point is important. In order to be granted certification, producers and companies must subject themselves to regular audits that are generally carried out by third party auditors on behalf of the certification scheme. Producers must directly pay these auditors a fee for inspections to be undertaken and audits to be completed, thus creating a clear conflict of interest. Recent reports have suggested that auditors have “overlooked” highly abusive practices on farms and plantations, and that this method of auditing is inappropriate...

The MSI Integrity report makes clear that ethical certification schemes alone are not instruments of human rights protection. They are not effective in ensuring accountability for corporate abuse. They do, however, continue to have a role as part of a more complex picture. Thus, whilst certification schemes will no doubt continue, it is necessary to supplement these with other measures. Public regulation together with private MSIs is required to help strengthen the standards with which companies must abide.