To ensure that workers are being treated fairly throughout the entire supply chain, many of the major retailers are now insisting their suppliers conduct ethical audits. But what exactly is an ethical audit?
In a nutshell, it’s an audit that looks at all aspects of a company’s practices relating to the workforce such as:
- working hours
- health and safety
- temporary workers
- right to work
- provision of breaks and rest days
- fair treatment of staff etc
Current practices are measured against the Ethical Training Initiative (ETI) base code and recommendations are made for improvements, where appropriate.
The ETI Base Code requires that:
1 EMPLOYMENT IS FREELY CHOSEN
You might be certain that your own employees are not being forced to work for you, but what about your suppliers? There have been several instances of prosecution of unlicensed Gangmasters and Agencies. Retailers who wish to promote themselves as ‘ethical traders’ will be interested in maintaining standards throughout the supply chain.
2 FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND THE RIGHT TO COLLECTIVE BARGAINING ARE RESPECTED
There should always be a method of communication available to workers so that they can air their views or concerns and feedback to senior managers, without fear of discrimination or reprisal. This includes the right to join a trade union or form one of their own. If no such channels currently exist in your company, an ideal solution would be to form a Works Committee with elected representatives.
3 WORKING CONDITIONS ARE SAFE AND HYGIENIC
Health and Safety is probably the main area of non-conformity in UK ethical audits. This can range from blocked fire exits and no records of fire drills to lack of first aid training and facilities. Other failures include areas such as manual handling (no suitable equipment or lack of training), traffic management, lack of provision of suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and failure to carry out risk assessments for noise, dust, hazardous equipment etc. Toilet facilities should also be kept clean and there should be clean drinking water available at all times.
4 CHILD LABOUR SHOULD NOT BE USED
Child labour is rarely an issue in the UK food industry, however ID shoudl always be checked at the start of employment and with younger workers, age can verified at this stage. Some companies will implement a policy of only employing over 18s or will perform risk assessments to ensure safety of younger workers.
5 LIVING WAGES ARE PAID
Any employee should be paid no less than the National Minimum Wage for their age. This is currently £6.19 per hour for those aged 21 and over, £4.98 per hour for 18 to 20 year-olds, and £3.68 per hour for under 18s. Wages should not be subject to any unnecessary deductions e.g. transport charges which would cause the hourly rate to drop below this rate.
6 WORKING HOURS ARE NOT EXCESSIVE
The ETI Base Code states that workers should not regularly be required to work more than 48 hours per week and should be provided with at least one day off every seven days on average. Any overtime should be compensated at a premium rate, should be voluntary, not demanded regularly and should not exceed 12 hours per week.
Obviously in farming and in certain other sectors of the food industry there is a requirement by employers to work longer hours due to high demand during peak times – e.g. harvest and where produce is seasonal. Nevertheless this would still be classed as a non-conformance under the ETI Base Code. Employers should ensure they have a system in place to monitor working hours in order to keep within the overtime limits, particularly at peak production times.
Although in UK law there is actually no requirement to pay a premium rate for overtime, the ETI Base Code states that overtime should be compensated at a premium rate. This means that an employer can be given a non-conformance if they decide not to pay a premium rate for overtime, even if basic rates of pay far exceed National Minimum Wage, and they are therefore meeting the requirements of the law.
7 NO DISCRIMINATION IS PRACTISED
Employers need have a clear policy on recruitment to ensure fair access to jobs and an Equal Opportunities Policy to ensure fair treatment of all workers. That means no discrimination in hiring, compensation, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on race, caste, national origin, religion, age, disability, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, union membership or political affiliation.
8 REGULAR EMPLOYMENT IS PROVIDED
Non-conformity in this area includes such practices as not issuing contracts to all staff, not having staff contracts on file, sending home agency staff on arrival if they are not required etc. The Agency Worker Directive Regulations also give agency workers who have been in continuous employment in the same job for at least 12 weeks the same treatment in terms of basic working and employment conditions as their permanent counterparts.
9 NO HARSH OR INHUMANE TREATMENT IS ALLOWED
This includes physical abuse or discipline, the threat of physical abuse sexual or other harassment and verbal abuse or other forms of intimidation. There have been shocking reports in the press in recent years following investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission of physical and verbal abuse of migrant workers in particular, refusal of toilet break requests and unfair pay. Many workers were too scared to speak out against their treatment for fear of losing their jobs.
Bad publicity in the newspapers about discrimination, or workers being poorly paid and living and working in unsafe, unhygienic environments are becoming increasingly common, but it is important to take a balanced view and acknowledge that this is not necessarily representative of the food industry as a whole. However, this highlights the fact that food manufacturers, farmers and growers can safeguard their reputations by being aware of ethical trading and commissioning regular third party audits of their sites. Ethical audits are essentially about helping companies to improve on current practices – they not used to catch anyone out.
For those that would like to know more , we are running an Ethical Trading workshop in Spalding, Lincs on 12th September. Contact us for further information or to book on 01756 700802 or visit www.vwa.co.uk/ethical.htm .
Companies booking an Ethical Audit with VWA will also be eligible for 10% off the above workshop.