Examination of social standards, de, t – v rheinland

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Checking social standards in industry

Since 2002, TÜV Rheinland, as a worldwide independent testing service provider, has been carrying out reviews of social standards in production and industry in various countries. The controls are carried out by trained auditors according to various standards and codes of conduct, for the inspection of which TÜV Rheinland is approved. The focus countries of the audits are in particular emerging countries such as Bangladesh, China, India and other Southeast Asian regions.

The aim of the audits is to ensure basic social standards in the global supply chain for the manufacture of goods and to monitor their compliance. Recognized standards that TÜV Rheinland tests for include the SA 8000 standard of the Social Accountability Institute (USA), the standard of the Amfori Business Social Compliance Initiative (Amfori BSCI) and Sedex Members’ Ethical Trade Audits (SMETA). Comparable standards have also been established in individual sectors, for the auditing of which TÜV Rheinland is also approved. These include the Standard Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) in the textile industry or the standard of the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative (PSCI) in the pharmaceutical industry. Supplier of the electrical industry checks TÜV Rheinland according to the Responsible Business Alliance Standard (RBA).

TÜV Rheinland has already audited several thousand companies worldwide according to such social standards. The most important goal of these audits is to clearly show the audited company where there is potential for improving working conditions.

Social standards criteria

Central categories of the various social standards are generally based on compliance with local law and fundamental demands of the United Nations’ work organization ILO. The SA 8000 standard includes the following categories, for example:

  • Prohibition of child and forced labor,
  • Prohibition of racial, gender and religious discrimination,
  • Right to freedom of association, organization in trade unions and collective bargaining,
  • Setting the maximum working hours to 48 hours a week, with one day off,
  • Guarantee of living wages,
  • Demanding and introducing decent working conditions,
  • Systematic improvement of the conditions in the company,
  • Documentation through external certification.

In accordance with the conventions of the International Labor Organization, the Amfori BSCI Code of Conduct requires:

  • Compliance with national laws,
  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining,
  • No discrimination whatsoever,
  • Compliance with the legal minimum wages and subsistence,
  • Setting the maximum working hours to 48 hours per week and limiting overtime,
  • Clear rules and procedures for health and safety at work,
  • Child labor ban,
  • Prohibition of forced labor and disciplinary measures,
  • Compliance with the minimum requirements for waste management, emissions and wastewater treatment,
  • Compliance with the minimum requirements for the handling with chemicals and other dangerous substances.

Audits: duration and expiry

The general course of the audits is comparable to that in the review of management systems, but the focus of the social audits is more on compliance with rules and regulations than on the organization and processes in the company. The specifications for the course of the audits, preparation of audit reports and documentation are not defined by TÜV Rheinland, but result from the specifications of the respective standard and the codes of conduct.

Depending on the requirements, the audits are usually repeated every one to two years. The auditors from TÜV Rheinland work, for example, on behalf of the factory operator, a manufacturer or a trading company. They have no official, police or state oversight duties. Of course, this is the responsibility of the authorities in the respective countries in which production takes place. The neutrality of the auditors is guaranteed by the involvement of TÜV Rheinland and the auditors in the national and international accreditation systems. This also includes regular independent checks on the activities of TÜV Rheinland and its auditors by accreditors, standard-setting organizations and national supervisory authorities.

The auditors themselves are also integrated in a quality and control system. TÜV Rheinland only employs auditors with in-depth professional experience who have the appropriate knowledge of auditing social standards and often also of management systems. In addition, the auditors first undergo special training that relates to the respective standards and, for example, includes a week for the Amfori BSCI Code of Conduct. Furthermore After this training, new TÜV Rheinland auditors initially attend audits by very experienced experts. After all, they are obliged to undergo regular advanced training and a systematic exchange of experience between the auditors. In addition, managers regularly monitor the audit.

In day-to-day work, it is always the case that the audit results and the work of auditors are checked not only as part of the internal quality management at TÜV Rheinland, but also externally by the standard-setting organization or the accrediting body.

The duration of the audits by TÜV Rheinland or another recognized testing company is based on the requirements of the respective standard. As a rule, the determination of the time for the on-site audit in a production facility is based on the size, number of employees and the type and complexity of the production processes. For large companies with over 1,000 employees, an audit takes up to five working days; for small companies, as a rule. at least one and a half working days.

However, preparing for these audits often takes a lot more time. The company often carries out a self-assessment prior to an audit. A declaration of consent is also required that TÜV Rheinland may take photos in the production facility and inspect relevant internal documents without being influenced, and that it may conduct confidential interviews with the employees.

The actual audit is carried out by TÜV Rheinland on site in the production facility. The auditors determine whether the work complies with the guidelines of the given code of conduct, for example, and check whether there are gaps in the requirements of the social standard. The audit begins with an introductory meeting in which the objective and course of the examination are explained.

The inspectors then inspect the plant, including the production area or social areas such as dormitories and the canteen. This is a pure inspection, for example with regard to decent workplace design, fire protection systems or hygiene. Construction controls, building statics controls are not part of the audits. In the event of obvious defects, the auditors will of course immediately inform the operator and the client.

As a further component, the auditors interview executives and employees and check the documentation – including whether the operating permits have been obtained from the local authorities to those compliance with the criteria must be demonstrated. The examiners conduct the confidential discussions with employees individually, but also in groups. The selection of the employees with whom the auditors speak is made on the proposal of the auditors, whereby the employees must of course give their consent.

Results and documentation

The results of the audit are summarized in an audit report according to the specifications by the standard holder from TÜV Rheinland, made available to the client and – depending on the audit system – also handed over to the respective standard organization. An Amfori BSCI audit includes that the test results flow into the Amfori BSCI database so that other Amfori BSCI members can see which companies have successfully completed the Amfori BSCI audit.

TÜV Rheinland assesses the seriousness of the defects found. There are certain knock-out criteria that prevent a review from being successfully completed. This includes gross violations of the basic rules of the ILO, such as forced labor or child labor, or that the auditors find that incorrect information has been given in critical points.

In the case of minor defects, these are documented in the audit report and must be remedied within a specified time frame, at the latest by the next audit.

Social audits can uncover grievances and show improvement opportunities. Social audit services are therefore generally suitable for making a positive contribution to the protection of human rights. In particular, social audit services are fundamentally suitable for contributing to improving the situation of children and women and combating forced labor in supply chains, as well as making a positive contribution to freedom of association in the companies examined.

Conducting social audits is only the first step towards protecting human rights. The contracting companies and the audited production facilities are responsible for correcting the deficits identified by audits.

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Christina Cherry
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