Navigating Audit Fatigue: The Future of Social Compliance Audits

Written by Bonnic Chung, Strategic Advisor, Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP)

Social compliance audits are a good thing. They help ensure factories are adhering to legal and ethical standards while protecting workers. However, too many audits in a short time span are not a good thing. The repeated auditing of factories, where each audit is similar and the only substantive difference is the buyer requesting the audit has come to be called “audit fatigue”.

The origins of audit fatigue can be traced back to the late 1990s and early 2000s when social compliance audits started gaining traction. The problem was, many buyers felt the need to create their own audit program, and insisted on implementing their audit within their supply chain even though professional independent audit programs where rapidly becoming available.

Fast forward to today, the demand for in person audits at factories has increased in response to laws imposing specific requirements on buyers that outsource manufacturing. Both the US and Canada have increased enforcement against imports made with forced labor and recently the EU approved a new law called the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive “CSDDD” that is expected to take effect in 2027.

These new laws require buyers to conduct supply chain due diligence including the use of credible independent audits. While some buyers have moved away from doing their own audits and instead work with established social compliance programs, others continue to use their proprietary internal audit models. This approach coupled with the increase in enforcement is contributing to audit fatigue. Indeed, some suppliers undergo as many as 10 or more audits a year.

The traditional model of buyer self-audits is no longer viable. The imposition of proprietary audits by buyers, even when a supplier has a recent, credible report or certification from an independent program, is no longer justifiable. Technology and professional standardization have made the old reasons obsolete.

The Association of Professional Social Compliance Auditors (APSCA) has validated the credentials of more than 2,300 auditors and established a Code and Standards of Professional Conduct. APSCA accredits independent auditors working for audit firms. It does not accredit auditors working for buyers. On the tech side, it is now possible to translate audit information into any format that a buyer wants to receive it in.

The future WRAP envisions is one where independent, credible social compliance programs coexist and serve as a menu of options for buyers and manufacturers, replacing buyer-proprietary programs and creating a more efficient supply chain due diligence environment. This approach respects the fact that one size does not fit all and it focuses on what is important, protecting workers while minimizing unnecessary costs for buyers and suppliers.

Register today for Bonnic’s session at the Global Sourcing Seminar Series on Social Compliance Audit Fatigue: Fresh approaches to a growing problem