Looking for a quick fix: how weak social auditing is keeping workers in sweatshops

Looking for a quick fix: how weak social auditing is keeping workers in sweatshops

Shortcomings of social auditing in the garment and sportswear industry

This report argues that social audits as they are currently carried out often fail to deliver as a tool for checking working conditions in facilities producing garments and sports shoes. The report, based on research carried out in Bangladesh, China, Kenya, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan and Romania, found that social audits are often short, superficial, and sloppy, and are often conducted by global firms whose staff is generally unskilled and inexperienced.

Over the past decade social audits have become a burgeoning practice within the garment and sportswear industry. While a number of companies have learned from their own experiences as well as from the critics, and some meaningful projects have been set up, social audits are in many cases still failing to deliver as a tool for assessing code compliance:

  • workers and their organisations are marginalized in the social audit process, relevant local stakeholders outside the factory such as trade unions and women's and labour NGOs are rarely consulted or involved
  • social auditors are making it too easy for workplaces to receive positive evaluations, particularly by announcing audit visits in advance, thereby giving factory managers time to prepare for audits and convey a false impression of working conditions
  • factory managers are deceiving social auditors in many ways, most notably by coaching workers before they are interviewed by auditors to convey false or incomplete information and by falsifying records
  • workers are badly informed about their rights, often too scared for their own jobs to speak up about problems during audits, and generally do not have the possibility to file a complaint
  • the vast majority of social audits is conducted by global firms whose staff is generally unskilled and inexperienced to do the job, and whose business model conflicts with the requirements for credible, independent social auditing
  • certain buyers, particularly well-known brands that have been targeted by labour rights campaigns, and those cooperating more intensively with labour advocates are actually doing a better job in developing more comprehensive and participatory social audit models
  • others, mainly unbranded buyers and non-specialised retailers, are promoting the failing audit model described in this report, particularly in the context of fast growing business dominated CSR initiatives.

The report calls for a system that places workers at the centre of social auditing processes and a more comprehensive approach to implementing and verifying labour codes of conduct.