SLCP: Collective Action to Drive Audit Reduction
Working conditions vary significantly across garment suppliers. Sourcing and purchasing practices of many brands are built on short lead times and the need for low cost to compete for end users’ demand for affordable clothing, leaving suppliers in a race to the bottom. This race drives poor working conditions and long working hours, including forced overtime, instances of violence, harassment, and verbal abuse. As public awareness for work safety grows, brands are increasing transparency throughout their supply chains to mitigate reputational risk.
Today, watchdogs and regulators increasingly expect brands and their suppliers to conduct audits at factories. While audits can help to promote decent working conditions, the proliferation of such audits and the lack of consistent standards has given rise to duplicative efforts and widespread audit fatigue posing significant burden on suppliers. Moreover, some audits fail to identify certain risks in cases where poor practices are masked or denied and travel restrictions during the pandemic also resulted in fewer in-person audits.
To mitigate audit fatigue, fashion brands and retailers must shift away from duplicative proprietary audits and seek to implement converged assessments supported by standards for comparable data sets on social conditions and allow for the public disclosure of audit results to increase transparency.
The Social & Labor Convergence Program (SLCP) is a multi-stakeholder initiative with the mission to implement a converged assessment framework that will eliminate audit fatigue and support stakeholders’ efforts to improve working conditions in global supply chains.
Providing a system solution to the existing misalignment of social auditing, the Converged Assessment Framework (CAF) increases transparency in supply chains, reduces the need for social audits, and ultimately enables users to redeploy resources into improving working conditions. Since launching operations in 2019, SLCP has been building support for the Converged Assessment Framework. SLCP signatories – including brands, manufacturers, audit firms and civil society groups – led the way by themselves adopting SLCP and by promoting it within their own supply chains and to their stakeholders.
To date, over 60 brands, retailers and organisations have now switched from their own propriety social audits to accepting SLCP verified assessments, with 4400 SLCP verified assessments completed in 2021, and the total for 2022 is expected to reach 8000. This presents a huge step forward towards convergence and to the elimination of unnecessary duplication in turn resulting in significant capital unlock for redeployment into workplace improvement programmes. Specifically, data collected by the Better Buying Institute™ in 2021 showed that factories that have adopted SLCP are saving up to thousands of dollars per year and that these savings are being reinvested in workplace improvement programmes.
Moreover, SLCP’s CAF has enabled SLCP signatories to collect credible and actionable data to identify trends and provide a useful baseline to drive supplier improvements and increase accountability.
Driving social converged assessments in their supply chain; fashion retailer and leading SLCP signatory; C&A, has publicly committed to replace 100% of its proprietary audits with SLCP verified audits by the end of 2022. C&A has developed a staged approach for scaling SLCP in order to effectively deliver supplier engagement activities across all facilities in sourcing countries where SLCP is available. Switching to SLCP’s CAF has also enabled C&A to redeploy their corporate sustainability team’s efforts entirely towards supplier development and capability building.
Adoption of converged audit tools presents proven benefits to suppliers, reducing audit duplication and enabling resource redeployment to improving conditions. To scale adoption, SLCP aims to achieve 25,000 SLCP verified assessments each year, which would represent approximately three quarters of the apparel and footwear sector. Switching from proprietary tools to the Converged Assessment Framework will require commitment from brands and initial investment in updating their systems. In the long term though, they too will realise savings and can redeploy staff resource from auditing to other areas of impact.