Responsible business thinking: interview with QIMA Audit Services Manager Gabriel Amouyal
Ahead of Sedex’s first Virtual APAC Conference, we caught up with Gabriel Amouyal, Audit Services Manager at QIMA to get his insights on virtual assessments and the impact of the pandemic.
Why are responsible business practices becoming more important?
Being a responsible business has always been important – at the end of the day, people’s safety and the sustainability of our planet are at risk if businesses don’t act responsibly. It is just an area that is increasingly coming into the spotlight, particularly in response to the many supply chain scandals and events over the past few years.
Globally we’re seeing a cultural movement which is demanding more of businesses. Consumers, particularly younger generations, expect greater transparency and responsibility from the businesses they purchase from and are speaking with their money – being socially and environmentally responsible impacts the bottom line, as well the world.
What do you think are the most important recent trends in social sustainability?
We’ve seen COVID-19 unfortunately throw a curve ball that has temporarily disrupted the social sustainability focus for many businesses around the world. But there are some overarching trends that have been shaping, and will continue to shape, the industry long after COVID-19 has passed.
The first is the growing adoption of technology to provide a more accurate view of the supply chain. Tools such as customised dashboards for analysing audit results, worker voice surveys delivered digitally to workers’ phones to gather feedback without threat of retaliation, and factory mapping using GPS data to uncover unauthorised subcontracting are all proving incredibly useful.
Secondly, as businesses increasingly focus on transparency in their supply chain, we’re seeing more brands sharing their supplier information and making data visible to the public – to the point that one day consumers will know where and how each individual item they purchase was made. At the same time, ‘watchdog’ organisations are publishing reports and lists of the most ethical companies which enables consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. The more information that is available to the public, and the more people start talking about these issues, the more responsibility is placed on businesses to improve their actions.
Thirdly, businesses are making efforts to improve collaboration in their supply chains and turn relationships with suppliers into strategic, long-term partnerships. Industry organisations are similarly pursuing collaborative efforts, such as APSCA (Association of Professional Social Compliance Auditors) which aims to improve the professionalism, consistency and credibility of the auditing industry. While collaborative efforts are still at the outset, this is a positive shift as brands, suppliers and third party service providers can work together to invest in improving areas like working conditions and worker wellbeing.
What do you think is the core impact of the pandemic on responsible business?
COVID-19 is bringing new social issues to the surface in the manufacturing industry. Global shutdowns and cancelled orders from buyers have hit factories hard, resulting in mass job losses for already vulnerable people. For those factories still operating, a likely consequence of the ongoing financial pressure is that programmes and procedures in place to support workers and provide safe conditions at factories will be cut, putting workers at greater risk. This situation demands an increased focus on social issues from buyers.
Now is the time for buying brands to invest in the social welfare of staff at their factories, rather than viewing supply chain compliance programmes as a cost and cutting them accordingly. As an industry it is our responsibility to keep the pressure on factories to not only maintain a high level of product quality during the ongoing pandemic, but also safe conditions for their workers.
As factories continue to operate during COVID-19, buying brands must also ensure that workers are provided with masks and gloves, that correct cleaning and hygiene measures are in place, and social distancing is enforced to reduce the risk posed by close working quarters. A factory sanitation audit is a good way to ensure workers are protected.
What industry challenges do you think are most pressing in responsible sourcing?
The unprecedented uncertainty and volatility posed by COVID-19 is a pressing challenge. Balancing business as usual operations while trying to put out fires caused by the pandemic has the potential to distract and detract from efforts made towards responsible sourcing practices.
Apart from that, businesses have increasingly complex supply chains that span the globe. Most lack visibility of their entire supply chain, and particularly conditions at Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers. Often a business deals directly with a Tier 1 supplier who has correct procedures in place – but their raw materials may originate from suppliers with less than satisfactory conditions, or work is being subcontracted without the business’s knowledge and their ability to trace their supply chain is undermined.
Accurate supply chain data, technology such as RFID tagging (radio-frequency identification), digital tools for analytics and benchmarking, in-house and third-party expertise, and consistent industry-wide standards and measurement frameworks will help to resolve this lack of visibility. However, the access to these for many businesses is too difficult, time-consuming or costly upfront. Solving these obstacles will go a long way to ensuring more responsible sourcing.
Given the current situation; do you think virtual/remote auditing will be the future direction of social responsibility auditing?
At a time where outside access to factories is limited or cut off entirely, travel for auditors is restricted and workers cannot be approached even when you are actually in the factory, remote auditing has provided a stop-gap solution so that some degree of auditing can continue.
However, virtual solutions such as video tours and worker voice surveys cannot always replace the robustness of document review and in-person observations of working conditions. At QIMA we believe that in-person audits still have immense value in checking elements that cannot be controlled or viewed remotely, alongside the capabilities of virtual tools.
We believe that remote audits are particularly useful to approve a new supplier when an onsite audit isn’t possible, extend the validity date of an audit report when a full re-audit cannot be performed, or to inform the decision making around future audits.
Gabriel Amouyal is the Audit Services Manager at QIMA. We’d like to thank QIMA for sponsoring the Sedex APAC Conference.
The Conference takes place on the 14th – 15th October 2020, you can register here.