The Fair Wear audit has evolved to take a broader approach and is now a tool used in various steps in the Human Rights Due Diligence cycle (HRDD). Audits help to monitor working conditions and flag where improvements or additional steps are needed.
Risk assessment, including audits, is an essential step toward effective access to remedy for workers. The Fair Wear audit is also a validation tool to check if remediation has taken place after interventions aiming at improving human rights conditions in the supply chains of the members. In addition, the data collected during audits and other risk assessments can be used as input for risk scoping, best-practice learning, and lobbying and advocacy.
Traditionally, companies use audits as their only or main tool for private regulation. The common practice is to conduct audits to pressure suppliers towards full social compliance. However, the standards of Human Rights Due Diligence require companies to take a more risk-based approach and implement the duty of care, rather than be overly reliant on audits. This has two implications for companies: 1) based on risk scoping, companies should use various risk assessments to identify the human rights risks in their own operations and in their supply chains; 2) when risks or violations are identified, companies should take preventive and remedial actions to improve the situation.
Audits, including Fair Wear audits, can flag certain risks and violations, but they are not able to identify all issues. It remains a snapshot of the situation at a certain moment. Therefore, members are asked to use multiple monitoring tools to identify risks and violations regularly. For example, if building safety is identified as high risk in the area where the factory is located, members and factory owners should consider hiring structural engineers for inspections in addition to audits.
What makes a Fair Wear audit different
Fair Wear audits are different from traditional audits. An in-country team of independent experts conducts a Fair Wear audit. It measures not only the working conditions based on the eight labour standards in the Code of Labour Practices, but also collect information on members’ purchasing practices, their monitoring efforts, the factory’s management systems and the worker-management communication. Fair Wear audits seek to provide input on the relationships between sourcing practices and the working conditions.
To gather high-quality data, the Fair Wear audit uses vigorous techniques and methods. Triangulation is at the core of data validation and verification. To ensure the integration of the voice of workers in audits, Fair Wear audits always include an offsite worker interview. The offsite interviews can be conducted at any place where workers feel comfortable talking, such as their homes, local cafes, community centres or union activity rooms. They can be conducted in different forms, for example, individual meetings, group discussions or phone calls. The purpose of the offsite interview is to give workers an opportunity to provide their input without the fear of retaliation. Fair Wear audits include and compare information derived from worker interviews, management interviews, visual inspections and document inspections. It also takes into account information relevant to the country and/or regional contexts provided by regular stakeholder consultations.
Fair Wear audits set out to provide a picture of the working conditions and gives members an accurate insight into the day-to-day experiences of workers in the workplace. Furthermore, a Fair Wear audit provides an analysis of the potential impact of sourcing practices of most brands working at the factory, with an emphasis on the Fair Wear members.
Action beyond the audit
Conducting an audit is not equivalent to doing remediation or preventing risks. Fair Wear members should take action to remediate issues found during the audits and other monitoring activities. A Fair Wear audit does not provide compliance certification to a factory. An audit assesses the status of a factory at a certain point in time, while compliance is a result of the day-to-day practice of the factory. For example, if a Fair Wear audit found that a factory had installed fire doors appropriately, the audit itself could not guarantee that the factory workers would use the doors effectively if there was to be a fire. If a Fair Wear audit found that all workers were paid above minimum wage, it does not guarantee that the factory would pay minimum wages during a crisis like COVID-19. To implement HRDD and ensure ‘full compliance’, members need to invest in the capacity and knowledge building of the suppliers, maintain a continuous dialogue with their suppliers and monitor their working conditions. Most importantly, members should enable suppliers to comply through their own sourcing practices and contribute to prevention and remediation.
Fair Wear will continue to improve and diversify working condition data collection in the coming years to make it more worker and stakeholder voice-driven and gender-sensitive. This will help to ensure that women and other typically marginalised groups are equally represented in social dialogue structures. All of this will be done to ensure factory management, trade unions, and MSSs have the necessary information to minimise workplace risks. We also aim to monitor how information on working conditions is translated into brand action what information is valuable and affects change at the brand level, and which brand interventions result in improvements at the factory level.