Exploring Supplier Sustainability Audit Standards: Potential for and Barriers to Standardization

Iain J. Fraser, Julia Schwarzkopf, Martin Müller
DOI number
#Sustainability standards
#Corporate responsibility and lead firms

Global focal companies are increasingly required and expected to monitor the sustainability risks and activities in their supply chains, which has resulted in increasing supplier sustainability audit activity and growth in the number of sustainability initiatives/associations. While common, shared audit standards were originally conceived to reduce audit fatigue; with overlapping and converging supply chains there could be a need for cross-recognition or standardisation of supplier audit standards. This research aims to provide empirically grounded insight into sustainability audit activity, audit processes and standards for suppliers and the extent to which they overlap. Audit standards employed by eight multi-brand, voluntary sustainability initiatives/associations, focusing on supply chain sustainability (SMETA, PSCI, ICTI, FWF, ASI, JAC, amforiBSCI and RBA) were inductively analysed. This research compares the audit processes and standards, detecting common audit categories, analysing points of overlap and difference. We find empirical evidence of significant growth in supplier sustainability audit activity. We also find overlap among the standards in terms of audit process and steps, as well as at the level of audit focus categories. Deeper analysis reveals large differences at the granular level in terms of questions asked to assess specific topics. We conclude that there is potential for standardisation and cross-recognition but that significant barriers to agreement at the level of audit questions and how topics are evaluated remain. This research provides a first empirical overview of this important tool and its application in various industries for sustainable supply chain management.

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