Social (ethical) audits serve many purposes and have become a requirement worldwide throughout almost every sector and industry. One of the major focus points of a social audit is to give workers a voice and establish whether management is ensuring a safe living and working environment for employees. Auditors who are trained in social compliance audits and must be recognised by the international body, the Association of Professional Social Compliance Auditors (APSCA), utilise the triangulation approach when verifying information. This happens through a formal document review, site survey (visual inspection of the premises), and interviews with management and employees. The auditor must speak to employees in the business to gain insight into their experience in the business.

Types of questions asked

The auditors will ask questions related to working conditions, hours that are spent working, wages, general health and safety on the premises, training offered, grievance processes, and so forth. Essentially, similar to the document review done with management, the interviews with the employees will try to establish whether all aspects of fair labour practices are implemented. Policies and procedures speak to the written part of responsible management systems; however, the social audit must assess the implementation in practice.

The auditor will ask the questions in such a manner to assist the employee in understanding what is meant by the questions or practice. Some challenges may exist due to a lack of formal schooling, a lower education level, etc.; therefore, in many cases, auditors will have to probe and explain concepts during the interview process. Isolated cases of incorrect information provided by employees will need to be verified or supported by other interviews and document review by the auditor before it can be escalated as a finding.

Management influence on interviews

The interview process with employees is essential, and management cannot coach or prepare employees on what needs to be said during these interviews/audits. In some cases, the auditor will ask open-ended questions and create the context to gain better insight into an employee’s experience.

Interviews with the different types of employees remain a crucial part of the social audit. They are a way of investigating how the business is doing based on the SIZA standard and global retailer requirements.