The need to build the capacity of suppliers to implement improvements in working conditions has become a commonplace certainly among larger brands and retailers, resulting in a variety of tools and programmes ranging from training courses for supervisors, to supplier seminars to share good practice and various supplier manuals and on-line tool kits.
However, all such approaches face the twin challenges of ensuring firstly, that problems are anticipated and prevented rather than simply addressed once they have been uncovered, and secondly, that changes are built to last so that issues don’t simply re-emerge – in other words, the much-vaunted goal of sustainable improvement.
An emerging solution to these dilemmas is to embed social and ethical standards in suppliers’ day-to-day management systems. Thus rather than compliance with codes of conduct being semi-detached to ‘real’ workaday business activities, compliance is delivered intrinsically through the way those activities are undertaken, be they quality control, industrial relations processes, production planning, or personnel management processes.
By this way of thinking, an effective management system is a key to delivering a positive outcome for workers. For example, a lot of wage payment non-compliances found in audits can be prevented simply by instituting a more efficient payroll system that accurately records hours, wages and deductions. (This won’t address living wage issues but that’s another story).
The Global Social Compliance Programme (GSCP) is currently consulting on a draft set of guidance for suppliers (which Ergon has helped draft) which is built around a classic Plan, Do, Check, Act framework. It sets out how respect for labour standards can be built into a company’s strategy and organisation, as well as the types of policies and management procedures that are needed to implement strategy. The guidance also includes stepped guidance in terms of ‘Fundamental’ and ‘More advanced’ actions suppliers can take.
The guidance is necessarily high-level as it is intended to have relevance for suppliers in all sectors and countries. However, it is hoped that it offers both a route map and practical guidance for suppliers grappling with their customers’ ethical demands as well as demonstrating that changes to existing policies and procedures can go a long way to reducing the risks – and costs- of non-compliance.
The draft guidance forms part of the GSCP’s suite of Reference Tools designed to assist convergence in the various elements of social compliance initiatives. The consultation is open until November 26th.