By: Jennifer Stepniowski, Pro QC Regional Operations Manager

At the heart of social accountability is the safeguarding of workers' rights. As such, Social Accountability International was established in 1997 as a response to increasing globalization and the demand for an international standard that would provide a guideline for supporting improved social performance. SA8000 was developed by SAI as a voluntary standard that would accomplish these objectives. Based on United Nations and International Labor Organization conventions and declarations, national law and the International Organization for Standardization management systems, SA8000 audits offer several notable benefits:

Human Resources - Recruitment & Retention Benefits
Higher employee morale leads to greater rates of retention, which cuts the costs of recruiting and training new staff. In addition, a growing trend in recruitment appears to be concern regarding a company's corporate social responsibility activities.

Increased Product Quality & Safety
Reducing defects and accidents enhances product quality. A less fatigued and adult workforce is less likely to cause accidents or defects on the production line. In addition, a supplier that shows little concern over health and safety is more likely to produce poor quality products.

Risk Management
Proactive corporate responsibility offsets the risks of scandals or accidents that can create unwanted attention from consumers, regulators, government or the media.

Brand Development
Investing in a socially accountable supply chain benefits a company's brand by differentiating from competition and building a positive reputation in the minds of consumers.

Stronger Management
Providing training, defining responsibility and developing manuals will strengthen the management of the company.

Government Intervention
If businesses take voluntary steps to ensure social accountability, they are more likely to avoid mandated government regulation and taxation.

As a service that represents the core values of the organization, Pro QC has been involved with social accountability auditing and the SA8000 standard since 1998. Currently, Pro QC has several SAI and TUV certified auditors located throughout China and in Taipei, Taiwan.

During a social accountability audit, qualified auditors visit the factory to ensure compliance with local labor laws and SA8000 requirements. Interviews with management and workers, as well as verification of documentation cover several primary issues as noted below.

Wages and Benefits
Auditors evaluate the minimum wages required by local law and verify that workers are being compensated appropriately. Actual wages, benefits and the pay process are evaluated and verified.

Child Labor
Age verification and compliance are evaluated against local laws. Review of personnel records and additional documentation, as well as interviews, allow auditors to determine if the factory is in compliance.

Forced and Compulsory Labor
Auditors evaluate whether the facility supports or allows work that is mandated through the use of threats, retaliation or demanded as a means of debt repayment.

Health and Safety
Auditors evaluate how employees access healthcare, in addition to how safety is maintained in the facility.

Freedom of Association and Right to Collectively Bargain
Interviews with management and staff allow auditors to determine if employees are comfortable and allowed to meet and discuss work issues. In addition, how issues are brought to the attention of management and handled internally is also evaluated.

In relation to local laws, auditors evaluate if the company engages in practices that allow discrimination in hiring, promotion, compensation, gender, sexual orientation, race, etc.

Working Hours
Auditors evaluate applicable legal standards and then verify compliance through interviews and documentation.

Disciplinary Practices
Auditors determine if the company engages in, practices or allows corporal punishment, mental or physical coercion and/or verbal abuse. Evidence of abuse is often discovered through private interviews with workers.

In addition to the noted topics listed above, the Pro QC auditor develops detailed observations, findings and recommendations that will be included within the final report. The report information can then be used by the client to work with the factory. Corrective actions are often recommended and can be re-evaluated as necessary.

Contact your account manager for example reports and additional information regarding social accountability audits.

**Some of the information referenced in this article is also noted in SA8000: The Definitive Guide to the New Social Standard, as well as the 2008 version of the SA8000 documentation.