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Ethical Audits and the Supply Chains of Global Corporations

Author: Genevieve LeBaron & Jane Lister, Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, Univ. of Sheffield, Published on: 14 January 2016

The increasing use of private audits to monitor supply chains is serving to restructure the global regulatory system to privilege the private interests of business growth, profit and market advantage over the public interest and social goods of improving labour standards, general wellbeing and ecological protection. In a nutshell, the audit regime is ‘working’ for corporations, but failing workers and the planet.

The increasing use of audits as a tool of governance is bolstering corporate interests and influence over consumers and policymakers and, ultimately, deepens corporations’ power to make their own rules and norms and evaluate and report on their own performance.

Whilst audits give the impression of active supply-chain monitoring and ‘continuous improvement’, the regime actually reinforces endemic problems in supply chains. It deflects pressure for stricter, state-based regulation and legitimises unsustainable global production models – in particular, a retail economy that promotes consumption and environmental degradation.

Through voluntary certification programmes, and with state support, the structural problems within the audit regime – deception, failing to detect or ignoring problems within supply chains, and a compliance mentality – are being swiftly institutionalised within global governance mechanisms. [refers to Primark (part of Associated British Foods), Coca-Cola, Unilever, Waitrose (part of John Lewis Partnership), Walmart, Lipton (part of Unilever), Starbucks, Nike, Ikea] 

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