The SIZA programme has continued to strive toward providing a risk-assured system for both buyers and producers across the value chain. With a cumulative membership for social and environmental compliance of over 3 500 across 34 different agri-commodities, ‘SIZA’s market acceptance is also increasing steadily, with over 300 businesses accepting the programme across the globe. With such a significant market acceptance and increasing demand for audits to be conducted, the capacity for available auditors is under pressure.

Third-party audits play a vital role for both producers and buyers. Audits provide a risk tool for buyers to assess and evaluate their supply chain. SIZA manages a rigorous oversight process with a hands-on approach, which allows markets further confidence in the outcomes and data while assuring that the risks are managed by SIZA. For producers, audits are just as important, as without an audit, one cannot gain market access.

As audits play such an important role, it is crucial that audits are conducted by approved global third-party audit firms and auditors. These approved firms and auditors must adhere to strict competency requirements and codes of conduct. These requirements are comprehensive for any auditor and especially true for social (ethical) auditors. Apart from fulfilling the criteria for becoming a SIZA lead auditor, there is also a requirement to be registered and fully compliant with the Association of Professional Social Compliance Auditors (APSCA) requirements. Currently, there is no formal tertiary qualification for social compliance auditors, and as a result, the time it takes to train every auditor becomes lengthy and expensive. Auditors need to be experienced, skilled, trained, and capable of conducting the audit to evaluate and assess the correct information. Auditors need to engage with all employee levels in agriculture, from the producer to the agri-worker, which results in extensive training and experience which must be in place. Auditors represent the specific scheme, and for SIZA, it is crucial that auditors understand the South African agricultural industry on a global scale.

Auditors come from various backgrounds and education levels. Qualified social auditors are trained at postgraduate level (i.e., LLB, HR, organisational psychology, etc.). The recognition process of becoming a lead auditor is extensive and takes one to two years, depending on the number and availability of shadow audits. Auditors also need to be trained and evaluated on their emotional intelligence/capacity and understanding of the global auditing elements. The time it takes for auditors to be fully trained and accepted causes a capacity challenge, as more than 60% of the current recognised SIZA auditors also audit on a variety of other global ethical standards such as SMETA, BSCI, WRAP, Fairtrade, URSA, SGP (Coca-Cola), McDonald’s, etc. Social audits also take longer to complete due to the employee interviews that must be conducted, writing the report, and review of corrective actions. It is also true that most auditors are nearing retirement age, and there are limited young auditors available due to the extensive time and training it takes before being recognised and accepted.

Continuous growth and development within the existing auditor pool is crucial, as the number of audits continues to grow due to increased market acceptance and a more commercialised agri-export industry. The challenges, however, remain evident in that auditors are limited in their availability, and it takes a long time to become an auditor. Covid-19 has also placed additional stressors and challenges onto the audit field, as auditors are exposed daily, many of whom have to go into isolation, causing delays in audit scheduling and planning. Auditors continue to travel far and wide, resulting in fatigue and being away from their families and loved ones for extended periods of time, all of which contributes to burnout.

SIZA is motivated to enhance the South African landscape in terms of auditor capacity, knowledge, and learning. SIZA, alongside other stakeholders and partners, have taken steps toward a potential solution. This process will take some time to complete and realise, but it should remain a priority for any party who depends on the utilisation of auditors in their value chain. If you are interested in getting involved with the development of a formal qualification for auditors, please make contact so that we can include you in the discussions going forward.