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Beyond Social Auditing

Numerous reports have found the social audits to be ineffective in capturing human rights abuses. What are the solutions and options for reform?

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).

Featured content

USA: Private auditors fail to detect child labour in supply chains of major supermarkets & food brands

Auditors allegedly moved too quickly, left too early, or did not review the part of the plant where minors work. They also said they struggled to record labour rights violations due to pressure from the auditing firms, the companies, and the suppliers. We invited the companies to respond.

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

Corporations are paying for worker abuse audits that are ‘designed to fail’, say insiders

Auditing companies are part of a system focused less on safeguarding workers than protecting companies' bottom lines, an investigation into labour practices within the Persian Gulf footprints of Amazon, McDonald’s, Chuck E Cheese and the InterContinental Hotels Group shows

10 Reasons Certification Schemes are not a Solution

In mining activities, certification schemes are becoming a major industry. Instead efforts should be put into creating a just energy transition, writes Yes to Life, No to Mining.

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

Case studies

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.