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How to prepare for a Social Audit

Ethical supply chain management is a critical challenge for businesses, regardless of their scale. To demonstrate adherence to responsible practices, firms increasingly opt for social audits. Thorough preparation can streamline this evaluation process, yielding more meaningful results.

Social audit standards come in many flavors, such as the SMETA 2 and 4 Pillar or the Sustainability Initiative of South Africa (SIZA). Some very large companies have even developed their own unique audit protocols.

However, despite the differences in audit standards, most of them are built upon similar principles, with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code serving as a widely recognized foundation. The ETI Base Code encompasses key aspects such as labour rights, health and safety, environmental management, and business ethics.

In this blog post, we will provide an overview of what you can expect during a typical social audit and guide you through the essential steps to prepare your facility for a successful audit process.

So, whether you are new to social audits or looking to improve your existing audit preparedness, this post will equip you with the knowledge and tools needed to navigate the audit process with confidence.

What to Expect During an Social Audit

A social audit (or ethical trade audit) is a thorough examination of your facility’s policies, practices, and working conditions.

The audit process typically begins with an opening meeting, where the auditors will discuss the audit scope, timeline, and requirements with your facility’s management team. Key personnel from various departments, including production, human resources, health and safety, and environmental management, should be present at this meeting.

Following the opening meeting, the auditors will conduct a site tour to assess the physical working conditions and observe production processes. They will also select a sample of employees for interviews, which can be conducted in a mix of group and individual settings. It is essential to provide a quiet, comfortable space for these interviews, where workers can speak freely without fear of retribution.

Throughout the audit, the auditors will review relevant documentation, such as employee records, payroll data, health and safety procedures, and environmental permits. They may also conduct a more in-depth review of your facility’s health and safety practices, including risk assessments, training records, and accident logs.

After completing the site tour, interviews, and documentation review, the auditors will summarize their findings and generate a Corrective Action Plan Report (CAPR). This report will highlight any non-compliances or areas for improvement identified during the audit, as well as best practices and positive observations.

The audit will conclude with a closing meeting, where the auditors will present their findings and the CAPR to your facility’s management team. This is an opportunity to discuss the results, ask questions, and agree on a timeline for implementing corrective actions.

By understanding what to expect during an ethical trade audit, you can better prepare your facility and staff for the process, leading to a more successful outcome.

How to Prepare Your Facility for an Ethical Trade Audit

Preparing for an ethical trade audit can seem daunting, but with proper planning and organization, you can ensure a smooth and successful audit process. This guide will walk you through the key steps to prepare your facility for an audit. These are the most general points to keep in mind. Audit standards, like SMETA pillar 2 or 4, will have some additional pre-audit preparation steps.

1. Inform Site Management

The first step is to brief all site management about the upcoming audit. Ensure that they understand the scope of the audit and what is required from each department. Communicate the importance of having the correct key personnel and documentation available on the day of the audit.

2. Arrange Interview Space

Auditors will need a quiet, private room to conduct individual and group interviews with workers. Choose a space that is free from interruptions, large enough to accommodate these interviews, and where workers will feel comfortable. A location near a canteen or workers’ area is preferred.

3. Inform Worker Representatives

If your facility has a union or worker representatives, inform them about the audit and ensure their availability and understanding of the process. Their cooperation and input may be valuable during the audit.

4. Assign an On-Site Contact

Designate a contact person within your facility, such as the HR Manager, to be available to the auditors for any questions or concerns they may have about the workforce during the audit.

5. Notify Labor Providers

If your facility works with any labour providers or agencies, notify them about the audit and emphasize the importance of having the correct key personnel and documentation available on the day of the audit.

6. Prepare Relevant Documentation

Gather and prepare all relevant documentation listed in the audit agenda for the auditor to review. This may include but not limited to:

  • Employee lists and facility maps
  • Health and safety procedures, accident logs, and training records
  • Environmental health and safety policies, waste handling procedures, and permits
  • HR policies on hiring, benefits, discrimination, harassment, grievances, and wages
  • Employee contracts, handbooks, payroll, and time records

Having these documents readily available will streamline the audit process and demonstrate your facility’s commitment to ethical practices.

7. Inform and Educate the Workforce

Finally, inform your workforce about the upcoming audit and the code against which the audit will be conducted. Place a notice on the bulletin board about the audit and display a poster explaining the ETI Base Code. This will help your workers understand the importance of the audit and the standards your facility is committed to upholding.


By following these steps, your facility will be well-prepared for an ethical trade audit. Remember, the key to a successful audit is proper planning, organization, and transparent communication with all stakeholders.

By partnering with organisations like Partner Africa, companies can navigate the complexities of social and ethical auditing and make a positive impact in the communities where they operate.

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