Site Visits

Site Visits

Unlike an impersonal survey or questionnaire, the value of site visit monitoring is that a company s team has person-to-person access to management and workers at a factory or farm. But effective interviews require good training, sensitivity, and a willingness to look beyond management assurances ” to interview workers at different levels, gain their trust, and be able to understand the reality of day-to-day working conditions and environmental procedures on days when the inspection team are not on site. This is particularly important in developing world operations where the difficulties of managing against widely varying norms for working conditions, wage rates, and working hours is compounded by broad differences in cultural norms and languages.

Monitoring must take account of local culture and language including the nuances of words and body language, says Jane Tate of HomeNet, an NGO concerned with improving working conditions of laborers who receive work ” stitching footballs, sewing soft toys ” at home, in developing countries . In many cultures women workers will not speak openly to male auditors , or they will speak in groups but not individually. For that reason, our inspections are conducted wherever possible by teams comprising both women and men. In some cultures, respect for age is such that young auditors will make little progress, while elsewhere, younger workers feel best able to talk to people of their own age. [16 ]

Finally, as with the CERO in the buying company, it can be helpful to have the supplier s management team appoint a point person that will be responsible for assisting with all aspects of the code implementation and audit process. This single supplier contact will help provide the CERO and his or her team with a responsible, single point of contact for coordinating all logistics, scheduling, and data gathering activities.

Monitoring compliance with labour codes demands the right team, the right methodology, skill and sensitivity, says the Ethical Trading Initiative in its Annual Report. Interviewing skills are vital . Interviewers must be able to select a cross-section of the workers, not least the ones who look intimidated, and get to the heart of workers everyday reality. Our experience shows that commercial audit firms are good at identifying health and safety issues, but sensitive interview techniques of the kind used in community development can reveal more about everyday abuse of workers rights. [17 ]

But selecting and monitoring suppliers is only half of the battle. A good ethical supply chain program also requires a company to ensure proper verification of supplier performance ” something best accomplished through a well-organized and professional audit process.

[16 ] The Ethical Trading Initiative s 2000 “2001 Annual Report, op. cit.

[17 ] Ibid.

Chapter Fourteen: The Audit Process

As with most other inspections ”OSHA, health and safety, EOE ” the audit process almost always begins with a preaudit visit where any major problem areas are identified and recommendations for action are given, followed after a period of time by the official audit visit, where the facility is formally audited for compliance. Third-party audit teams usually document their findings to both the hiring company and to the supplier s management team, providing them with the written results marked against the required codes and scores. Good audit firms also go further, providing recommendations for action that can help a supplier make important improvements.

As we have seen, the two processes ” monitoring and auditing ” are not the same, and should be dealt with in separate, differently constructed programs. Supporters of an independent audit contend that just as no company would expect to have its financial statements unchallenged, a company s social and environmental performance also merits some level of verification. And also just like financial audits , a strong verification program can not only identify areas for improvement, but can also provide independent and certified evidence of accomplishments.

Auditing Tools and Techniques

Whether a company chooses to use its own auditor or bring in a third party, there are still a number of items that the audit team will need before the official audit process begins.

  • The results of all the surveys and questionnaires that have been sent to the supplier. Although in many cases the information will need to be verified by the audit team, the supplier s response to a questionnaire can go a long way toward speeding up the process, and will often provide valuable information on areas of potential concern. As suppliers become more familiar with the audit process, and the results of audits and survey responses can be compared, repeat audits often can be prioritized and customized, allowing the company to focus on highpriority or suspect suppliers, while reducing the frequency of audits to occasional spot-checks on suppliers that have proven their adherence to standards in the past.

  • A detailed supplier description that provides the audit team with all relevant information on the supplier: products manufactured, volume of purchases, number of employees , previous violations, etc. (see Appendix B).

  • All required standards and performance indicators that apply to the supplier.

  • An audit checklist that provides the audit team with a structured, step-by-step guide through the entire interview and inspection process. These checklists need to be comprehensive enough to guide the team quickly from issue to issue, and should include all areas to be addressed, including relevant performance indicators, a grid for indicating compliance/ noncompliance , and space for comments ” all in a compact and easily followed format (see Appendix C).

  • A violation guideline, detailing specific procedural guidelines for supplier management when the audit reveals violations, so that the issues can be addressed immediately and constructively as part of the audit itself.

Providing the supplier s management with a leave behind guideline can help them make improvements quickly and effectively.