‘Good intentions are not enough’: Gender sensitive auditing

BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) and Assurance Services International (ASI) provided key insights into the techniques and impact of gender sensitive auditing last month during a dedicated workshop for auditors, as part of the ISEAL/BSR Gender Working Group.

Prioritising gender issues is, of course, vital to empowering women working in global supply chains. However, it is equally important when considering holistic approaches to improving the quality of work within supply chains and the relationships between workers and management.

How effective are current auditing techniques?

A recent analysis of SEDEX audit reports by BSR found that of 235,000 non-compliances identified over three years, only 935 gender specific non-compliances were reported.

The top gender-specific non-compliance categories were related to issues that auditors can easily detect. These were either identifiable during observations, such as the lack of gender-segregated toilet facilities, or apparent through document checks, such as the absence of policies on discrimination and sexual harassment.

One underlying cause for this trend is that most social auditing schemes tend to look at issues that impact the entire workforce rather than focus on gender elements.

What needs to change moving forwards?

The workshop focused on how to audit against the gender dimensions in standards, and how to be gender sensitive throughout the entire audit process.

During the workshop auditors explained the importance of investigating a company before conducting onsite visits to build a picture and identify potential risk areas. Participants also shared advice on how to conduct effective onsite visits. This included creating a space in which workers and management are at ease, using ice-breaking techniques, and creating an atmosphere of trust by being aware of tone and body language and avoiding a direct interview approach.

The key take-a-way for participants was that ‘good intentions are not enough’. It is insufficient for auditors to check only whether gender sensitive policies exist. They must assess worker awareness of those policies, the extent of their practical implementation and their impact in changing gender norms in the workplace, and beyond.

Much more needs to be done to reduce inequality between the genders to create better and fairer supply chains. Auditors, being the closest to the workers, are well placed to become champions for gender equality.