Big stride forward for social compliance auditing as APSCA was established today in New York

APSCA – the Association of Professional Social Compliance Auditors – was established in New York today. The real professionals in this key sustainability industry took the responsibility for credibility and quality development in their own hands. The seriousness and transparency of the new organisation is shown by the important role given to partner, customer and civil society stakeholders.

Without social compliance auditors we would never see decent labour conditions in global supply chains. These are the people who inspect workplaces in supplier countries. They make it possible for factories and farms to show that they respect workers’ rights. This opens global markets for them and protects them against less serious competition. Even more important is that social auditing makes it possible to detect human rights and other abuses and helps set forth corrective action.

Buyer brands and retailers need professional compliance auditing for the due diligence obligations that the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights set on them. There are no other realistic alternatives as long as most major producing regions and countries are unable or unwilling to take the responsibility for this in a credible way.

Also the organisations that today question social auditing and auditors are unable to suggest viable and realistic alternatives. Their goal to rely on international legal controls and developed labour relations systems in global supply chains turns against its own  purpose if global buyers are denied their most important tool for applying due diligence. This makes no sense, and would bereave workers the support that they can have through codes and standards that buyers expect the local employers to respect.

Social compliance auditing is far from perfect, and yes much must be improved here. Also code and standard organisations have to be constantly critical about their own role and efficiency. Buyer brands and retailers need to adapt their own approach to the more stringent due diligence obligations that the UN Guiding Principles, the OECD and ILO guidelines, and their national action plans give them.

There is no conflict between mainstream labour relations based on legislation and collective agreements and voluntary initiatives by business to help them comply with their due diligence obligations. On the contrary, they do need each other.

I would hope that we could see a fast improvement in this respect where other conflicts of interest or ideological differences would not be allowed to play out at the expense of supply chain workers. On all sides we would need some more soul-searching and compromise-seeking.

Creating the Association of Professional Social Compliance Auditors APSCA could not be more timely. Today in New York, a critical mass of leading auditing firms got the new organisation on its way. Including global buyer companies, sustainability organisations and other stakeholders was a wise and important decision. This shows that the auditing industry wants to listen to its partners and the public, and proceed very seriously with tackling any problem issues and ensuring a reliable, efficient and cost effective sustainability service also in the future.

When I accepted the invitation to join the APSCA Stakeholder Board I was already encouraged by the industry deciding to take action. In fact I was demanding this myself when I spoke at a Global Social Compliance Programme GSCP Conference in San Francisco some years ago. Having participated in the founding meeeting in New York yesterday and today, my expectations are even bigger.

Most of all I was impressed by the commitment and engagement by all participants to make sure that their auditing activities help make a real positive difference for workers in the global supply chains. Especially the many compliance auditors who were present showed a real passion for their work.

This has not come about by itself. APSCA executive director Rona Starr has really got the wheels moving, making sure that the engagement and good intentions turn into concrete action.

APSCA will now go on to ensure that social compliance auditing is trustworthy and that auditors and their employer companies respect high ethical and professional standards and are fully skilled to take on their demanding tasks.

So, good vibrations here at the APSCA meeting in New York.



About the Author

Jan Furstenborg
I started my working life as education secretary for the Finnish secondary students' association Suomen Teiniliitto in 1967. From 1969 to 1986 I was employed by the Finnish trade union movement and held many different positions in the commercial workers' union. In 1986 I started to work for FIET, one of the predecessors and founders of the present UNI Global Union. At first I worked with organisation development and education in the developing world and was actively engaged in the integration of unions in the new market economies of Central and Eastern Europe. At the end of 2009 I left my position as Head of UNI Commerce Global Union where I was responsible for the Global and European trade union work and the sector social dialogue within EU and with leading multinationals. Since then I have worked with governments, standard organisations, companies, trade unions, and others to promote social responsibility, environmental sustainability, dialogue and partnership. I have retained my longstanding membership on the Advisory Board (now through the Founders Committee) and the Board of Directors of Social Accountability International SAI, known for its SA8000 Social Standard. I am also member of the Advisory Board of the Global Social Compliance Programme GSCP where I have participated actively in the work since the initiative was launched. Early 2015 I was invited by the Global Organic Textile Standard GOTS to advise them on social and labour issues as a member of their Technical Committee. In addition, I am a member of the Stakeholder Board of the newly established Association of Professional Social Compliance Auditors APSCA. I share my time between Helsinki, Finland and Founex, Switzerland.