For most producers in South Africa involved in the export trade, the answer to this question is a resounding ‘YES’. With producers being ultimately responsible for the implementation and selection of the audit programme to be undertaken, there are a few aspects to consider and take into consideration when making this decision. This will ultimately lead to the following question: How do I choose a Standard and Audit Programme? What do I need to know?
It is crucial for producers and export companies to understand the finer details of a Standard and Audit Programme before making a decision. When supplying to multiple markets, please consider the following information:
- Market Acceptance of the Standard / Programme
When selecting an audit programme, a producer will need to ensure that the programme is accepted by all of their buying markets globally. Many regions of the world have specific requirements to be met before a producer can supply produce to that specific region/country or even retailer. The SIZA programme is actively engaging with more than 300 business’ globally to both obtain recognition and maintain acceptance for the programme in its effort to ensure producers have only one social (ethical) and one environmental audit to complete in South Africa. As the SIZA programme is voluntary, producers can sometimes decide to register and undergo a different audit programme. If this is the case, it is advisable to first understand the market acceptance of the audit programme to determine if it allows access to all relevant markets. If it is not accepted by the relevant markets, producers might need to undergo more than one social (ethical) or environmental audit, resulting in audit duplication and higher time / financial costs for a producer.
- Auditor Competence, Audit Firm Acceptance and Auditor Capacity
- APSCA Competency Requirements for Social (Ethical) Auditors
Auditors often need to meet minimum competency requirements for certain programmes to ensure acceptance by specific retailers/buyers. This is especially true for social auditors who must meet and be accepted by the Association of Professional Social Compliance Auditors (APSCA) before being able to lead audits for social programmes such as SIZA, SMETA and other retailer-specific programmes. It is also a minimum requirement when uploading audits to the Sedex platform which can influence a producer’s ability to reach certain UK and USA markets.
- Audit Firm Acceptance and Auditor Capacity
If you are looking to undergo an audit, a producer will need to investigate the capacity and availability of auditors in the area and confirm which audit firms are recognised for the audit programme. Many retailers only accept specific audit firms per country and only allow specific audit firms to conduct specific audits. With this in mind, SIZA only recognises audit firms that have the necessary recognition from all markets for the SIZA social and environmental programmes. The selected audit firms invest towards providing auditor capacity for these programmes to ensure auditor availability across the country. If a producer chooses a programme that has limited audit firms or auditors available, the audit firm may need to send an auditor from another country to complete the audit, resulting in higher audit costs and potentially confusion around practices/legal interpretations of the business system.
- Providing Traceability and Visibility
3.1. Sedex Visibility
When selecting a Standard (Social or Environmental), a producer will need to first confirm if the markets/buyers have fully accepted the particular programme – this includes acceptance of not only the audit, but also the visibility/platform on which the audit will be shared. When supplying to the United Kingdom and United States of America, visibility on the Sedex platform is extremely important to take into consideration as these markets require visibility of the producer on the Sedex platform. To assist South African producers, particularly SIZA members, a special, reduced fee between SIZA and Sedex was negotiated – this results in a significant cost saving to SIZA members who choose Sedex visibility through SIZA instead of directly via Sedex. When this option is chosen, SIZA will then also manage the producers Sedex profile (SAQ, audits, visibility links etc.) on the producer’s behalf.
If the producer decides to rather have a direct account with Sedex, the producer must ensure that the audit programme, auditor(s) and audit firm are Sedex-approved and maintain the competency requirements (i.e., APSCA registration). The producer will then need to manage their own Sedex profile and pay the full Sedex fees as indicated on their website.
3.2. GLOBALG.A.P. Visibility
Similar to Sedex, SIZA offers SIZA producers the opportunity to gain visibility of their SIZA Social and Environmental audits on the GLOBALG.A.P. platform via an API link (established through an agreement and mutual partnership between SIZA and GLOBALG.A.P.). This visibility prevents the producer needing to conduct an additional social or environmental audit for EU markets – this is similar to the Sedex agreement which exists for UK and USA markets.
- Affordability and Cost-effectiveness
- Audit Scope and Frequency
Producers will need to determine the audit frequency required by certain audit programmes – annual audits are a common requirement resulting in additional costs and time spent on audits. In comparison, the SIZA programme drives a risk-based approach which can allow producers to achieve a two (2) or three (3) year audit validity period – this can be a significant cost and time saving incentive for farms and packhouses.
- Combined Audit Option (if required)
To save on audit costs when choosing to complete a SIZA Environmental audit, a producer can combine their SIZA Environmental audit with the GLOBALG.A.P. IFA audit, providing for both savings in cost and time. A producer can also combine a SIZA Environmental audit with a Rainforest Alliance audit (if needed) to cover all their markets – this arrangement again saves costs and time whilst avoiding the duplication of another social audit (if a producer’s SIZA Social audit is in place).
- Member Toolkit and Corrective Action Assistance
The SIZA programme includes multiple benefits to members, including its support and assistance mechanisms that exist to support members in their compliance journey and when driving continuous improvement. There are a variety of support structures and programmes available that are aimed at assisting producers, guiding the audit process and maintaining a credible certification process to the benefit of all those involved in the supply-chain. These support programmes include:
- Capacity Building Programmes
SIZA facilitates and offers 13 training programmes and a comprehensive training toolkit to support producers and emerging growers with the implementation of the ethical (social) standard and environmental assurance requirements. These activities promote awareness and an understanding of the Social/Ethical and Environmental Standards, in addition to, promoting practical and social skills to enhance productivity and continuous well-being on farms. These training courses are offered at no additional cost to the producer when conducted online via webinars and in-person nationwide. The training toolkits are designed for South African agriculture, in accordance with legal requirements and best practice – it includes document templates, examples of compliance practices and guidance material which are all available to producers to use and implement in their businesses.
- Audit Oversight Programme
The audit oversight programme implemented by SIZA includes an active drive for producers to complete corrective actions following their audit. SIZA will follow-up and contact producers directly to encourage corrective action completion as soon as possible after the audit – the corrective action process supports the ultimate goal of continuous improvement and illustrates to markets that producers are meeting the minimum requirements. SIZA also drives a direct, hands-on approach in its efforts to ensure auditors are competent and knowledgeable on the SIZA programme, agricultural sector and applicability of requirements for farms and packhouses. SIZA actively trains auditors each year and manages their recognition, competency and the quality of their activities and audit outputs.
Further, the audit oversight programme provides producers with a channel to voice their concerns via a feedback evaluation performed after each audit – this can include the option to raise a dispute should a producer not agree with an auditors technical or legal interpretation. The audit programme creates transparency and trustworthiness through these communication channels by ensuring that information from both producers and auditors are taken into account when determining an audit outcome.
- Best Practice and Remedy Solution Programmes
The SIZA programme firmly believes that a balanced view should be maintained when reviewing a business’s compliance status. This can be achieved when producers submit their practices that go above and beyond minimum compliance to SIZA for approval – once approved, these practices can then become visible to buyers. The SIZA programme also offers a Remedy Solution Programme which allows for experts in a particular field to be recognised as a suitable solution to resolve a potential area of concern. Producers have the option to select these independent companies/experts so that direct contact can be made in an effort to resolve the root cause of a particular problem.
- Between Audit Monitoring
SIZA CARES and Social Site Visits form an integral part of SIZA’s drive towards continuous improvement and assists with the management of environmental and social risks within the agricultural sector. The SIZA CARES programme assists businesses to establish comprehensive management systems, manage environmental risks and to improve on key performance indicators across the four cornerstones of the environment. Similarly, the Social Site Visits allow for continuous monitoring to ensure that practices remain in place between audit periods. These visits are done at no additional cost and form part of your primary membership.
- Digital Recordkeeping Programme
The Digital Recordkeeping programme assists producers with monitoring the performance of their business practices, such as understanding their water-use efficiency, energy efficiency, carbon emissions and waste production. With recordkeeping and target-setting forming the foundation of continuous improvement, the implementation of the Digital Recordkeeping programme will enable producers, packhouses and processing facilities to assess whether they are on track to meet their sustainability goals. As standardised methods and calculations are used by the programme, agricultural practices can be monitored and adjusted over time.
Should you have any uncertainty or questions about choosing a third-party audit, SIZA invites you to engage with us directly. SIZA will gladly engage with each member if they have any uncertainties or questions on the information presented in this newsletter – please feel free to contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org / 021 851 8184).