Corporate Watch: Societé Générale de Surveillancehttp://www.ethicalconsumer.org/commentanalysis/corporatewatch/sgs.aspx[3-7-2013 15:38:50]
To some extent these stories show that the FSC’s system of checking its own auditors seems to be working. And althoughfinding alternative auditors might be difficult in some parts of the world, there must be a point at which continued problems with asupplier begin to look systemic.
Clothing retailers rely increasingly on outsourcing the social auditing of the garment factories that create their products. Typically,companies spend something like 80% of their ethical trade budget on audits.According to the
: “Tens of thousands of social audits are commissioned annually by hundreds of brand-name companies (“brands”) or retailers. A whole industry of commercial social auditors, self-assigned experts, and quasi-independent ethical enterprises has jumped on the social audit bandwagon.” Naturally, SGS is active in this area.When a company outsources part of its operation, it gives away a little control. The associated economic risks and responsibilitiesare also dispensed with so, for most, it’s a small price to pay. However, that lack of control can have serious consequences.One of the most extreme cases of abuses of factory workers culminated in April 2005 when the Spectrum Sweater factory inBangladesh collapsed, burying hundreds of workers alive and killing 64. According to Clean Clothes Campaign, workers hadattempted to raise the alarm about cruel and dangerous conditions before the incident, but to no avail. The factory hadpreviously undergone at least one social audit (by Carrefour) and had undergone a “quality audit” reportedly carried out bySGS.
Social auditing - good and bad
When done properly, social auditing can be a force for good. According to the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) “findings showedthat auditing has contributed to widespread improvements in health and safety, extending payment of the minimum wage andlegally correct overtime premiums to more workers, and a reduction in working hours.” However, the ETI has also profiled “anumber of common ways in which ethical trade auditing currently goes wrong.” First on this list was: Unreliability of third partycommercial auditing companies”.It is important to state that there are retailers that contract production audits in good faith that they are paying ‘the experts’ to usespecialist skills to ensure compliance with various social and environmental standards. This approach has been praised in thepast since using an independent auditing company shows a readiness to put assessment of its operations in the hands of a thirdparty. It also demonstrates a confidence on the part of the retailer or brand that its house is in order.Delve into this a little more philosophically though, and you may have a problem. Corporate social responsibility is not simply aprocess, (like sewing, or riveting, or growing) that can be easily quantified and compartmentalised. Yes, companies still needquantifiable targets to drive change - but those targets must embody the whole philosophy and spirit of responsibility, rather thanexist as discrete tasks.So the assessors looking for compliance to a code of conduct must have as much belief and understanding of it as the peoplewho devised the code. If SGS is anything to go by, it looks like the ethical auditors who also do lots of other types of processverification, are least best placed to understand this.
2 Republic and canton of Geneva, Judicial Authority Investigation 30/07/033 World Rainforest Movement Bulletin, Issue 131, June 2008
4 ASI Forest Management Audit to Regional Directorate of State Forest in Białystok, Poland, 09 – 12 May 2006
5 FSC Press release 04/07/08, and email from FSC press office 08/07/086 WRM bulletin Issue 6, November 19977 Global Witness press releases 08/06/2007 and /07/20078 ETI Forum Report from ETI members’ meeting, 16/11/ 20069 Clean Clothes Campaign “Looking for a Quick Fix: How weak social auditing is keeping workers in sweatshops”200510 Ibid11 ETI Forum Report from ETI members’ meeting, 16/11/ 2006