Sedex Stakeholder Forum collaboration in practice – renewing the Issue Titles scheme

Collaboration goes right to the heart of how Sedex was built and how we operate today. I was reminded of this recently, when we released a new Issue Titles scheme.

Issue Titles are descriptions which auditors select to help report their findings following an ethical audit. They pick the Issue Title that best describes the non-compliance, observation or good example they’ve seen, adding additional notes where necessary. For Sedex buyer and buyer/supplier members, the Issue Titles offer a way to compare social and environmental issues across any social audit, in order to measure, monitor and report on performance in their supply chains. Sedex is unique because with the Issue Titles members can report on all findings, whether they are found through SMETA audits or other types of inspections and visits.

Because the Issue Titles scheme is a key part of how auditors report their findings on the Sedex system, it’s important that the scheme is kept relevant and up to date with all the latest issues, and is presented in a systematic and robust way.

The latest update to the Issue Titles – which included the most extensive review to date – started in May 2015 and is truly a masterclass in collaboration and consensus. Over 120 stakeholders from brands, retailers, audit firms and suppliers around the world contributed.

The final list:

  • Is easier to use
  • Is more detailed
  • Includes new topics such as human rights and land rights
  • Means better quality reporting, which can lead to more targeted actions for suppliers to improve their sites
  • Will ultimately benefit workers across the world

The update began with the Sedex team reviewing the existing list alongside all the notes given by the audit community to date. They identified new issues, looked at patterns and tried to gain an in-depth understanding of how auditors have been using the Issue Titles. They also consolidated the list and worked to improve the phasing and detail levels across the scheme.

With this initial work done, the suggested new scheme was given to industry experts in the Sedex Stakeholder Forum (SSF). The SSF brings together around 130 leaders from industry initiatives, companies, civil society and audit firms from across the ethical trade and responsible sourcing industry. Together, they discuss the challenges they face and solve those problems collaboratively, so it was well placed to contribute to this project.

Once the draft scheme was reviewed by SSF experts, it was then commented and consulted on by volunteers from within the SSF. The volunteers came from both auditing firms and companies including The Body Shop, Kingfisher, M&S, Morrisons and Walmart. They reviewed sections of the Issue Titles that they specialised in and fed in their comments both in writing and during calls with Sedex.

The team also had detailed input from two of the SSF working groups which address particular industry challenges:

  • The first working group – which comprises members of the SSF as well as AIM-PROGRESS members and representatives from Impactt – fed in to the section on outcome indicators. Enhancing this section means that auditors can better capture the voices of the workers at the sites they audit and have more options of how to report exactly what’s going on at a site
  • The second working group had come together to achieve consensus around specific elements of the National Living Wage and how this should be handled in social auditing. The group is comprised of auditors, retailers and labour providers and has produced a guidance document which will be published in December 2016

Having industry experts advising how to reflect recent legislation like the National Living Wage and the UK Modern Slavery Act was key to making the new Issue Titles useful to both the audit community choosing them and the customers receiving their audit reports.

Following input from the working groups, the SSF volunteers and industry experts, the Sedex team circulated an updated version to the entire SSF for a final round of feedback. In the interests of collaboration, Sedex also consulted auditors on the best time of year to launch the new Issue Titles. An autumn launch was decided and the new scheme officially went live on 1stNovember 2016.

The Issue Titles scheme is just one of a number of collaborative projects that the SSF are working on or contributing to. I look forward to sharing details of others soon.


About the SSF

The Sedex Stakeholder Forum (The SSF brings together leaders from across the ethical trade and responsible sourcing industry to discuss the challenges they face and solve those problems collaboratively. It is also home to SMETA, one of the world’s most widely used audit formats.

The SSF is made up of working groups which include brands and retailers, NGOs, industry experts/associations and monitoring firms that are significantly involved in ethical trade auditing. It is currently active in the UK, China and Latin America.

The SSF working groups operate collaboratively to develop ‘fit for purpose’ responsible sourcing content and methodologies. These are designed for all users and impacted people (Sedex members, non-members, workers and their communities) with the aim of improving business performance and workers’ lives.

The working groups also provide guidance and direction to Sedex staff, to help them develop the products and services which will most benefit Sedex members.

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