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1 Jul 2021

ECCHR, Brot für die Welt, Misereor

Study on the human rights fitness of the auditing and certification industry

"Human rights fitness of the auditing and certification industry?", 1 July 2021

External auditing, certification and human rights—Putting the problem into context

... Whether audits and certification schemes can deliver on the expectations placed on them is one of the central questions this study seeks to answer. On the one hand, it asks whether auditing and certification processes are themselves fit to respect human rights and, on the other, whether they are fit to audit and certify the human rights practices of others.

This study examines four exemplary cases from different sectors that show how audits and certification schemes can actually increase human rights risks. Moreover, they demonstrate that substandard audits and certifications are not just outliers, but rather common across the auditing and certification industry, due to structural deficits in state regulation and governance of the industry (see Chapter II and the detailed case studies in the appendix).

The study also considers the question of whether and how auditing and certification firms are currently liable to injured parties for faulty performance that contributes to human rights abuses (Chapter III). The study then goes one step further to ask about prevention: What would it take for the auditing and certification industry to become human rights compliant? Here, the study not only considers the role of private actors, but also the role of the state in guaranteeing human rights. If the state entrusts the exercise of its human rights protection duties to private auditing and certification providers, it must ensure that the private service providers effectively fulfil their intended public protection purpose. This would require addressing the structural deficits identified in the case studies (Chapter IV). To this end, the study concludes by offering practical proposals for action for legislative and political decision-makers at both the national and EU levels (Chapter V). Only when these deficits are successfully addressed does the question arise as to whether audits and certifications are suitable instruments with which a company can fulfil, and prove that it has fulfilled, its human rights due diligence obligations ...