Maybe it’s time to give audit fatigue a rest.
Suppliers whose customers accept standardized rather than buyer-specific factory inspections are reporting “significant” savings, according to an early look at the Better Buying Institute’s Better Buying Purchasing Practices Index 2021, which uses information submitted anonymously by suppliers to measure the performance of brands within the apparel, footwear and household textiles sectors.
Among the 20 percent of suppliers whose buyers have embraced the Social Labor Convergence Program’s (SLCP) Converged Assessment Framework, some reported paring costs back by as much as $20,000 a year, the Texas-based research organization found. The extra funds are typically reinvested in workplace improvements, such as new technologies, community programs and enhanced social protections for workers, it said.
“These emerging insights reinforce the value of audit harmonization, and of tracking its impact on suppliers and workers year on year, via Better Buying[’s] authentic, independent data,” Marsha Dickson, president and co-founder of the Better Buying Institute, said in a statement. “They also reveal the tremendous appetite among suppliers for driving change, innovation and improvement, and the impact they can make when they have the financial resources to do so.”
The SLCP sprang to life at the end of 2015 after a group of industry stakeholders, including the International Labour Organization’s Better Work program, Fair Trade U.S.A. and Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, decided to ease the burden of repetitive and frequently duplicative labor audits on apparel and footwear manufacturers. Their efforts led to the formation of the Converged Assessment Framework, a single tool designed to replace the multitude of proprietary inspections that suppliers frequently juggle to the detriment of both time and money.
But more brands are realizing that tying up resources better spent on actual improvements is both unnecessary and counterproductive. More than 85 percent of suppliers who rated the purchasing practices of their buyers favorably said that their customers are now accepting existing audits or assessments of factory working conditions in lieu of new audits based on their proprietary frameworks.
By streamlining the auditing process, tools such as the Converged Assessment Framework offer a “strong foundation for a win-win sustainable partnership” between suppliers and buyers, said Janet Mensink, executive director of the SLCP.
“These initial findings by Better Buying Institute show that [the] SLCP’s vision of redeploying resources from auditing to improving working conditions is becoming a reality for many suppliers,” she said. “[The] SLCP’s Converged Assessment Framework also benefits the brands and retailers working with these suppliers; not only by saving them time and money but also by providing a high-quality and rich data set that is compatible with existing standards.
The Better Buying Institute will publish a deeper dive on audit harmonization in early 2022, while the full Better Buying Purchasing Practices Index 2021 will be available later this month.