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Navigating the seas of social compliance

Business, Management | October 1, 2015 | By:

Keeping a weather eye on your supply chain.

Container ships are the life blood of the global apparel and textile trade. Every year, thousands of vessels traverse the oceans loaded with billions of dollars in ready-made goods waiting to be claimed by eager consumers. The process by which these goods are transferred from ship to shore after the vessel arrives in port is equally impressive, and is contingent on that vessel being securely anchored to restrict its movement during the unloading process. While many vessels opt to moor themselves to nearby wharfs, others use the device for which this activity is named: the ship’s anchor.

One key distinction between these techniques is that while a captain can clearly see the cleat to which the vessel is moored, after an anchor and its chain drop below the surface of the water, how does the crew know what kind of environment the anchor and its chain may settle in? Will it secure itself to the sea bed as intended? Will the chain get tangled in a coral reef? Will it puncture the hull of a passing research submersible? While technological advancements allow a captain to infer things about the environment between the vessel and the sea floor, there’s no way to be sure of those conditions without strapping on a scuba suit and making your own observations.

If you’ve worked for an apparel or textile company that relies on outside production facilities to manufacture products, especially overseas facilities, then you’ve probably already ascertained my point in this article: Supply chains, like anchor chains, are a vital link to the bedrock and bottom line of your business, yet they become increasingly difficult (not to mention expensive) to monitor the longer they become.

As a company operating in a time during which people and planet have become equally as important as profit, it is vital to know that the people working on your products at every step of the process are being treated fairly and that the facilities in which they work are safe and humane. But it’s simply resource-prohibitive for most businesses to perform the kind of consistent monitoring this process would require. This is where WRAP comes in.

Independent certification

Incorporated in 2000, WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) is an independent, objective, nonprofit team of global social compliance professionals dedicated to promoting safe, lawful, humane and ethical manufacturing around the world, through certification and education. What does that mean for supply chain security and those charged with ensuring it? It means that WRAP can be an invaluable partner in this endeavor. As our mission statement implies, we are a team of passionate social compliance professionals whose sole mission is to ensure that production facilities operate in an ethical and responsible manner.

Our primary activity is our certification program, the largest such program in the world focused on the apparel, footwear and sewn products sectors. It is a voluntary program for production facilities, and as such, the process begins with an application and fee submitted by the facility wishing to be certified. The facility will then conduct a self-assessment, looking at the operation’s compliance with WRAP’s 12 Principles. These principles are based on generally accepted international workplace standards, local laws and workplace regulations that encompass human resources management, health and safety, environmental practices and legal compliance, including import/export and customs compliance and security standards.

The self-assessment is followed by an unannounced inspection by one of our third-party audit partners, who will verify the facility’s compliance and then submit the findings to us; we will then decide, based on the findings of our monitoring partner, whether to issue a certification of Platinum (valid for two years but only available for facilities that have held three consecutive Gold certificates), Gold (valid for one year) or Silver (valid for six months).

One of the things that distinguishes our certification program from other similar programs is our emphasis on management systems. Every good auditor knows that even the most thorough audits are really only capturing a proverbial snapshot of operations in a given production facility, even though, by their very nature, apparel and textile production facilities are dynamic places. So how can WRAP ascertain a reliable account of what procedures are like in such a dynamic place, based on a single visit?

In the same way a racehorse owner can assess the fitness of his horse based on a single trial run and examination, WRAP auditors are trained to look for objective evidence of successful implementation and execution of compliance management systems during their “snapshot visit” (I would encourage everyone to go to our blog to read more about what horse racing can teach you about management systems!). As previously noted, WRAP does not offer any permanent certifications, which means that every facility must be inspected regularly in order to maintain its certification; and all certified facilities, regardless of level, are subject to random Post-Certification Audits (PCAs) that can occur at any time during the certificate period.

WRAP in action

Education and training are an essential part of the management and operations process for businesses serious about social compliance and supply chain monitoring, and they’re also core to the services of WRAP. The vast majority of WRAP’s certification audits are conducted by professional social auditors who work full-time with one of our accredited monitoring partners. These individuals must complete our rigorous five-day Lead Auditor Training course, and attend regular refresher traning sessions, before they can begin conducting audits. WRAP staff auditors do conduct a small number of direct certification audits, but are primarily engaged in quality-control activities, monitoring the work of our third-party audit partners.

We also offer a variety of compliance courses open to the public. Our two-day Internal Auditor Training course is an excellent primer for social compliance management systems, while our Fire Safety and C-TPAT (U.S. Customs—Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) courses provide intensive training in those specific areas, again centering on management systems.

How can our certification program fit into your social compliance strategy? It really depends on whatever works best for your specific business needs, which only you can determine. WRAP certifications are accepted by a wide range of companies in a variety of different ways. Some may choose to accept a WRAP certificate in lieu of their own inspections, while others prefer that WRAP certification be a prerequisite for conducting their own inspections. The beauty of the program is that it is flexible. WRAP is not a membership organization, which means that there are no costs or prerequisites for a brand or buyer to incorporate our certifications into their programs. Because we are a nonprofit organization, we are accountable only to upholding our 12 Principles and the integrity of our standards.

While it is true that the world has become smaller in terms of electronic transactions and communications, cargo still travels the same distance by truck, train, plane or ship. The ever-increasing globalization of the apparel and textile supply chain means that those supply chains will only continue to lengthen, and extend to places that become ever more challenging to monitor. While navigating this changing global landscape, WRAP can offer verifiable and reliable assistance and training to help you meet your social compliance responsibilities at all stages of production.

WRAP, Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Arlington, Va.

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