At the supplier – buyer factory visit what should be the agenda for a business meeting that shall also include working conditions, social and environmental compliance? Based on my own experience, whether it was textiles, furniture or ceramic/metal etc. there are basics that provide a framework for both parties to work with when conducting factory visits:
- The Business Report
- Full compliance audit reports – 2nd and 3rd party
- Social and Environmental performance
- Child Labour
- Sub Supplier Management
1. The Business Report: To assure maintenance and continuity in compliance at the factory there shall be a written document at every visit. A brief, points driven hardcopy produced by the buyer before they depart that follows up previous reports, business decisions, visit results and latest corrective actions with noted responsibilities for the supplier or buyer to implement.
The Compliance Agenda points for a factory visit:
2. The Audit Reports – 2nd and 3rd Party: The results and notes from current and previous compliance audits conducted by your own or 2nd/3rd party organisations are reviewed. What were the audit results and more importantly actions taken since; for non-conformances, improvements required or suggested? How has the supplier or even the buyer addressed these issues and implemented the requirements. Make a note to follow up these issues during a visit to the factory floor or production office.
3. Social and Environmental Performance: This part of the factory visit is about touring the shop floor and walking through all or a specific work section; making sample checks, quick observations securing the factory compliance in working conditions, safety and environmental performance as per the following suggestions:
- Are machines safe and operated in a safe manner
- Are emergency evacuations clear and apparatus in working order
- Is the shop floor clean and tidy
- Is the factory operator personal protection equipment in use
- What are the discharges levels – noise, air and water? Does it look and smell okay. Are monitoring records maintained?
- How are chemicals stored, handled and used
- Medical emergency equipment and materials are available e.g. first aid box.
- Conduct sample checks of the time keeping and attendance systems – follow up one or two randomly selected operators. Are their working hours recorded and what is the level of their overtime.
- Conduct random sample checks on employee age records – are they maintained and can these operators be identified in the factory.
- Are age records maintained with verifiable documents eg id cards, birth certificates etc..
- Is the factory employing Young Workers – how does this work within the law, what are their ages.
- Can employment records be obtained immediately on any factory operator who ‘looks’ young.
- The Factory management understand the routines when there are potential issues of child labour being identified.
- Secure that the supplier maintains accurate and up to date records of its vendors who supply semi-finished, components or materials that are used in the buyers finished products.
- Check a randomly selected vendor:
- When was the last visit by the factory management to one of its vendors?
- Has the supplier secured the national legal and buyer requirements at its vendor
- Have corrective actions been identified at the supplier’s vendors, how have theses been followed up and secured by management.
The above are a suggestion to include in a supplier visit agenda. It is not a full audit, but rather a quick follow up and push for the factory and the buying team to keep compliance as a 365 days assurance. For both parties it’s a good temperature check on performance and highlight where things may be going astray. The results of the check can then be passed to more specialist colleagues for further and more detailed examination if serious areas of concern were noted during the visit.
Adding these points to factory visit agendas every time would initially increase the pressure on the supply chain. Eventually it would be managed on a day to day operational level – no longer a compliance project but a factory and supply chain process.
The main things to consider:
- Conduct sample checks – random selection of operator records, factory departments, vendor performance reports.
- Make it an observation exercise with aim to improve not punish
- Always start with the previous visit actions
- Depending on the regularity of visits, selected points can be reviewed on a rolling basis rather than every time.
- Drive the issues of good working conditions, social management and environmental performance into the DNA of the supply chain as being good for business growth.
The factory visit by the buying team should be a very hands on operational activity. It is an excellent opportunity to achieve alignment if the meetings are within a structured framework of a practical agenda. The above can be one part of a factory visit agenda that is concise, practical and can be conducted through existing resources including commercial, logistics and technical personnel
For both the buyer and suppliers, the brand protection of the retailer and its customers is vital. In the supply chain this is everybody’s responsibility and everybody can play a part. When it comes to compliance I have seen too often that this is left to a company CSR colleague and very often a third party auditor to secure and maintain a supplier performance. This is not practical for 365 days or even fair and is actually a big risk for society, the environment and the business!!
Mark K. Astley