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 production site 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 and innovations to grievance mechanisms.
Mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence is another key opportunity to drive a more comprehensive, effective and transformative approach to assessing and addressing risks in global supply chains. However, despite their longstanding and well-documented failure, the role of social audits, certifications and related initiatives has come under renewed debate in the context of increasing momentum towards mandatory due diligence requirements, particularly in Europe. Analyses have warned against an overreliance on industry schemes, multi-stakeholder initiatives, and third-party auditing in the EU's Corporate Due Diligence Directive and outlined key elements of effective (mandatory) due diligence including stakeholder engagement and responsible purchasing and business practices.
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.
This portal is the result of a collaboration between BHRRC and Clean Clothes Campaign and was made possible thanks to funding from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).
Respecting human rights: Why the CSDDD needs to go beyond social auditing
A Directive that is conceived as yet another auditing standard passed onto suppliers will miss out on much of its historic potential to transform, write Saskia Wilks, Johannes Blankenbach and Anne Manschot
Association of Critical Shareholders raises questions to Volkswagen about the announced audit of the VW SAIC plant in China
In an open letter to letter, the Association of Critical Shareholders raised doubts as to whether an external audit can be an effective and sufficient measure in this specific case. We invited VW to respond
Industry schemes must not be part of the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive
The European Commission’s proposal for a directive on corporate sustainability due diligence includes a dangerous overreliance on industry schemes, multi-stakeholder initiatives, and third-party auditing, a briefing paper by SOMO concludes
Burmese workers at Thai garment factory bring "landmark" lawsuit against Tesco & social auditor over alleged "sweatshop conditions"
130 ex-workers at VK Garment Factory (VKG) are suing Tesco and social auditor Intertek for alleged negligence and unjust enrichment
Rethinking Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives
Report and blog series by MSI Integrity invite readers to think critically about the limitations of voluntary regulation and to envision more effective strategies to protect human rights
Worker-centric due diligence
KnowTheChain: Addressing forced labour risks in lower tiers of electronics supply chains – examples of company practice
Pakistan: Ali Enterprises Factory
NGO coalition files OECD complaint with Italian NCP against auditor RINA for allegedly failing to detect safety & labour abuses at Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan.
Germany: Need for reform of social audits
German Ministry of Economic Affairs acknowledges need for reform of social audits in textile industry in final statement on OECD complaint against TÜV Rheinland.
Loblaws and Bureau Veritas lawsuit
Canadian courts dismissed lawsuit against Loblaws and social auditing firm Bureau Veritas for alleged liability relating to social audits in the Rana Plaza building.
Explore our blog series
Expert authors discuss and reflect on solutions and fundamental reform options as well as what improved and accountable due diligence beyond social auditing should look like.