A social compliance audit, also known as a social audit, is an effective way to determine if an organization is complying with socially responsible principles.

Social compliance refers to how a company protects the health and safety as well as the rights of its employees, the community, and the environment where it operates in addition to the lives and communities of workers in its distribution chain and its supply chain. Social compliance also refers to an organization’s perspective on corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Social compliance audits, which are voluntary, are typically performed by independent social compliance auditors who conduct these audits on suppliers’ external facilities, such as factories and farms. Although social compliance audits may differ slightly depending on the industry, the requirements for each social compliance audit is typically the same. When conducting a social compliance audit, an auditor follows a social compliance audit checklist.

Social compliance principles help brands ensure that their own companies and the suppliers down their supply chains are adhering to ethical work practices. Sustainability and social compliance guidelines from various industries and non-profits describe such employee rights as freedom of employment, protection from being harassed and discriminated against, and safe working conditions.

After organizations convey what they expect from their suppliers’ facilities in the form of a code of conduct, auditors conduct social compliance audits to verify the performance of the suppliers.

See also

Automating GRC: The Next Frontier in Risk Management

Facility audit

A facility social compliance audit confirms and documents that the facility is complying with the approved standards of employee freedom of movement, correct pay, and health and safety as well as with local laws.

A social compliance audit may uncover opportunities for improvement in a number of areas:

  • Underage labor
  • Collective bargaining
  • Discrimination
  • Environment
  • Freedom of association
  • Harassment and abuse
  • Health and safety
  • Prison or forced labor
  • Wages
  • Excessive work hours

The social compliance auditors conduct employee interviews with individuals who are selected at random to better understand their working conditions and their living conditions if the employees live at the facilities.

The employee interviews should be voluntary and conducted in private to give them the opportunity to bring up any bad treatment or grievances that may need to be investigated. The auditors ask the employees questions regarding such issues as work hours and conditions, length of employment, and their understanding of their employers’ disciplinary practices.

The social compliance auditors collect evidence and data that they report to the brand and the facility. The job of the auditors is to be impartial; however, they can make suggestions. And instead of viewing non-compliance as compliance issues or problems, the social compliance auditors may consider them as opportunities for improvement.

Social compliance audit checklist

There are a number of social compliance standards, but Social Accountability 8000 (SA8000) is the leading global standard for factories and organizations.  It was established in 1997 as a multi-stakeholder initiative by Social Accountability International.    

A voluntary standard for social compliance, SA8000 is based on national labor laws, the international human rights norms, and the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Each Social Accountability 8000 social compliance audit checklist—as well as other social compliance audit checklists—should include the following nine requirements. A third-party audit based on the Social Accountability 8000 standard should indicate that the supplier is complying with these requirements:

  • Child labor: Auditors check for violations involving child labor, particularly since child labor is still a common issue in Asia. Child labor is any work performed by a child younger than 15 unless local law states that the minimum age for work is higher.
  • Forced labor: Suppliers are prohibited from employing forced or slave labor. In addition, suppliers are not allowed to withhold salary, benefits, or personal documents from workers as withholding documents may make it hard for workers to leave at will.
  • Health and Safety: Suppliers must provide a safe and healthy workplace for employees.
  • Freedom of association and collective bargaining: The freedom of association and collective bargaining requirement gives employees the right to organize trade unions and engage in collective bargaining with their employers. However, compliance with this requirement may vary based on national or local laws.
  • Discrimination: Protects employees from discrimination based on origin, caste, race, religion, gender, political affiliation, and other attributes.
  • Disciplinary practices: Suppliers are required to treat employees with dignity and respect. This requirement prohibits disciplinary practices, such as corporal punishment, inhumane treatment, verbal abuse of workers, and mental or physical coercion.
  • Work hours: Suppliers must allow employees at least one day of rest after six consecutive days of work. Additionally, the normal workweek should not exceed 48 hours, overtime must be voluntary and it can’t exceed 12 hours per week.
  • Remuneration: Social compliance auditors investigate whether suppliers are paying employees a living wage. Wages must cover workers’ basic needs and allow for discretionary spending. Suppliers must also comply with local laws for mandatory income withholdings, such as Social Security and taxes.
  • Management systems: Factory managers must have management systems in place regarding preventive measures, corrective actions, policies, and documentation.

When an organization receives its social compliance audit report, it may decide to share it with the public, whether the results of the social compliance audit are positive or negative. Then creating and sharing an action plan regarding its social compliance efforts to become a more socially conscious corporate citizen could enhance its public image.

Automating GRC: The Next Frontier
in Risk Management