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Beyond Social Auditing

Ando International garment factory (Better Work Vietnam)_ILO Asia and Pacific_via_flickr

Independent and diligent audits seem rare and require, at best, a sort of 'checklist compliance'.

Carolijn Terwindt, ECCHR & Gisela Burckhardt, FEMNET

The growing scale and complexity of global supply chains as well as an increased emphasis on human and labour rights has led large multi-national companies to carry out their own social audits, hire private auditors to monitor the conditions in their supply chains and/or require certificates from factory owners. With the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the subsequent positioning of due diligence as the global standard of practice for companies on human rights, social audits are increasingly being used by companies to comply with their due diligence obligations (for more information and guidance on human rights due diligence see this section).

This trend is worrying given that numerous reports have found the practice to be ineffective in capturing human rights abuses in global supply chains, and ultimately in its current form to be failing workers. Incidents such as the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh and the Ali Enterprises fire in Pakistan, both of which were audited shortly before the tragedies happened, have tragically drawn attention to the pitfalls of social auditing in the textile sector.

Research has also drawn attention to the particular impact this has on vulnerable workers including women, children and migrant and refugee workers. Human Rights Watch for example found that audits in the textile industry fail to address gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the workplace. Our own work on Syrian refugees in the Turkish garment industry also highlights this issue. Workers in other sectors such as agriculture, food and electronics have similarly experienced the shortcomings of social audits, thus raising important questions as to whether the current practice of social auditing is fit for purpose.

However there are a number of reform options and (emerging) alternatives including approaches such as auditor liability, the Worker-driven Social Responsibility model, mandatory human rights due diligence and innovations to grievance mechanisms. This portal will feature various perspectives and research on the pitfalls of social auditing, gather and share examples of where audits have failed, as well as materials exploring alternatives to the current practice of social auditing, including by companies.

We welcome input and views from all stakeholders, both on options for fundamentally reforming social auditing and on alternative models which seek to go beyond the practice.

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