This report aims to contribute to a better understanding of the corporate-controlled social auditing and compliance industry. It takes stock of evidence on the effectiveness of the dominant auditing regimes and the auditing firms that are currently active in the apparel industry. The case studies presented in detail in this report illustrate how – far from being an effective tool to detect, report, and remediate violations – corporate-controlled audits often actively aggravate risks for workers by providing misleading assurances of workers’ safety and undermine efforts to truly improve labour conditions. By doing so, this report builds upon previous analytical work done by academics, journalists, and labour advocates, as well as on the Clean Clothes Campaigns’ (CCC) substantial experience working on remedy in specific instances of human rights violations in factories over the past thirty years. This history provides a rich case base of more than 200 documented instances of auditing failures which serve as the basis for the primary analysis. Evidence clearly shows that the industry has failed spectacularly in its proffered mission of protecting workers’ safety and improving working conditions. Instead, it has protected the image and reputation of brands and their business models, while standing in the way of more effective models that include mandatory transparency and binding commitments to remediation.
In order to shift this balance, auditors and monitoring initiatives need to involve workers in a meaningful way. They must be transparent and accountable by adhering to enforceable regulations that provide legal and commercial consequences for auditors and auditing firms that fail to identify essential and foreseeable, and thus avoidable, human rights risks. There must be legal and commercial consequences for the sourcing companies who fail to stop, prevent, or mitigate identified human rights risks and remedy actual human rights violations. Without an enforceable human rights due diligence framework in place, ineffective social audits will continue to be relatively meaningless in terms of ensuring worker safety and promoting humane working conditions. At worst, they could risk further entrenching inhumane working conditions. Addressing the gaps in the identification of human rights risks and violations is vital in order to ensure the industry starts to focus on actual prevention and remediation.
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