How to Ensure Social Compliance Using SA8000 and Other HSE Audits

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Social compliance issues have been a growing concern for several years now and only continue to rise as working conditions have taken a backseat during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Social Compliance SA8000 Audits

The Rana Plaza disaster killed over a thousand people and maimed over two thousand more when the eight-story commercial building, housing garment production workshops, collapsed in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, in 2013. This single disaster highlighted a need for greater transparency and vigilance within the social compliance sector. However, factory safety standards still remain a concern in countries such as Bangladesh, where a recent fire at a factory outside Dhaka left at least 52 dead because exit doors had been padlocked shut.

More recently, Covid-19 has exacerbated issues, with child labor returning to the spotlight as increasingly economically desperate families send their children out to work for minimum wage under unregulated conditions.

While there is still a long way to go before human rights are adequately addressed, it is possible to start with ensuring social compliance in your global supply chain through social audit services that include the SA8000 audits.

Measuring social compliance standards in the supply chain

The International Labor Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency, developed a set of Labor standards, which have grown into a comprehensive outline for work and social policy. These have evolved into several sets of social and ethical compliance standards,

designed to protect human rights, guard against issues such as child labor and human trafficking, as well as create a fair, equitable, and safe workplace for all, among other aspects of protection of the quality of life in the workplace.

Detecting gaps, weaknesses, and abuses require conducting frequent supplier reviews and ensuring appropriate action is taken to rectify any issues. Conducting a social audit in China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, among other countries where production is outsourced, is especially necessary.

Common auditable social compliance standards include:

SA8000: Social Accountability International (SAI) leading social certification standard

SMETA: Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit (SEDEX) is widely used to assess on-site working conditions

BSCI: Business Social Compliance Initiative’s social monitoring system for ethical sourcing

WRAP: Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production certifies factories based on 12 principles

ISO 26000: guidelines on social responsibility through assessment of social responsibilities and actions significant to a company’s functionality

RBA: Responsible Business Alliance’s resources on social responsibility in global supply chains

What do social compliance standards achieve?

While largely voluntary, social compliance standards set the benchmark for humane treatment in factories. Through providing transparency across supplier practices, a social compliance audit can also identify risky suppliers, enable buyers to protect their brands, and ensure an ethical supply chain.

Social audit services are the first step in ensuring suppliers meet the requirements of a social compliance standard.

The SA8000 Audit

The SA8000 framework by Social Accountability International (SAI) is considered one of the most popular standards to help measure social performance across eight areas important to social accountability in workplaces. The rigorous approach of the SA8000 audit has made it one of the more popular standards, as it ensures a very high level of social compliance within supply chains.

The eight elements of the SA8000 standard are:

  • Child labor
  • Forced or Compulsory Labor
  • Health & Safety
  • Freedom of Association & Right to Collective Bargaining
  • Discrimination
  • Disciplinary Practices
  • Working Hours
  • Remuneration
  • Management Systems

The amount of time required to conduct an ethical audit depends on the size of the factory – typically one auditor will go on-site for three to five days of work. During this time, the auditor will interview a sample of workers as part of the social compliance audit. They will be asked questions regarding their working hours, wages, and working conditions so that the auditor understands whether the supplier is behaving in compliance with human rights issues and safety regulations.

After the social compliance audit

Many companies are integrating social compliance criteria into their internal Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) regulations. The results of the audits can find their way into contractual documents and use audits among other materials. Non-compliance points require discourse with the supplier on both the implementation of corrective action and deadlines, as well as maintenance.

After social audit services have been engaged and a social compliance audit has been conducted, the audit team works to form a corrective action plan, following which they will implement action on required points, verify the corrective action, and continue to monitor through an annual audit process.

The auditor needs to have a good understanding of local regulations, culture, language, and risks, as well as to be experienced with conducting social compliance services. Third-party auditors can help if the buyer does not have the relevant skills in-house, or someone on the ground close to their supplier sites.

Pro QC International is a global quality assurance company with close to 40 years of experience in conducting third-party audits, including social compliance audits, globally. Pro QC’s range of social audit services includes SA8000, RBA, SMETA, BSCI, WRAP, and ISO 26000.

Please visit us at to learn more about how we can help you with your social compliance audits.

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