FAQs for supplier companies

I've been asked to get an audit of the ETI Base Code - what is it?

The ETI Base Code is a generic code of labour practice and is internationally recognised as a model code. All ETI member companies and many other retailers and brands have adopted the Base Code and have committed to making sure their suppliers work towards it over time. Companies either adopt it word-for-word, or incorporate it into their own company codes.

As part of their commitment to ethical trade, buying companies need to find out what working conditions are like in their supply chains, so they can identify any potential issues that need  resolving. Campaigning organisations and increasingly, concerned consumers, also ask that companies assess their suppliers. ETI member companies - and many others - inspect significant numbers of their suppliers against the ETI Base Code every year. View the ETI Base Code

How do I arrange the audit?

We don't carry out audits against the ETI Base Code ourselves, as that's not our role as an organisation. However, many private certification and auditing companies have experience of carrying out audits against the Base Code, and some of them have staff around the world. Below are some of the ones we know about:

Please note that ETI does not endorse any of these organisations.

As the quality of audit firms and individual auditors varies tremendously, some tips on making sure you get accurate results are:

  • Ask that the audit is carried out by local staff with appropriate language skills and cultural knowledge.
  • Make sure the audit team has a gender balance that matches that of your workforce.
  • Make sure the auditors carry out confidential interviews with workers.
  • Ask for experienced auditors.
  • Ask that auditors give a narrative account, rather than just ticking boxes.

You may also find a local non-governmental organisation in your area that has relevant skills and could either carry out, or participate in an audit.

What can I do to make sure I pass the audit?

We expect our corporate members to use audits as a way of diagnosing problems, not as a ‘pass or fail' test. In fact, it's very rare to find any company that's fully compliant with the Base Code.

If you supply an ETI member company, you should expect them to help you make any necessary improvements within a timeframe that works for both of you. ETI member companies should not stop trading with you if the audit uncovers only minor issues. However, if they uncover very serious issues, you will be expected to take immediate corrective action. If you do not do so, you may lose the business.

Will I get a certificate to say I've passed?

After being audited, it is possible that you will receive a certificate of compliance with the ETI Base Code from the auditing company. You should be aware that ETI does not formally endorse any certificate that claims that a company is ‘compliant with ETI' or ‘compliant with the ETI Base Code'. We do not endorse any companies who carry out workplace audits, as we are not an accreditation body.

So how will I benefit from an audit?

As well as keeping customers happy, many suppliers who have invested the time and resources in improving conditions for their workers have found that their efforts have brought them business benefits, including:

  • Boosting morale
  • Reducing absenteeism
  • Improving employee retention
  • Increasing productivity
  • Increasing profitability

It's also likely that as retailers and brands respond to increasing concern among Western consumers about workers' rights in supply chains, more and more of your customers will start asking you to comply with the ETI Base Code. So making the effort now should stand you in good stead for the future. 

Why do I have to go through so many audits?

Life would be much easier if one audit was acceptable for all! There are many reasons why buying companies like to do their own audits. These include:

  • There is no single internationally agreed code of labour practice. Although many companies - particularly those in the UK - follow the ETI Base Code, some follow other codes that have been developed by different ‘labour standards initiatives'.
  • Even where companies are auditing against the Base Code they often tag these audits on to quality and environmental audits.
  • Audit methodologies are by no means 100% reliable - we often hear of cases where a supplier may be found compliant in one area by one buying company, while another will find  them non-compliant. Buying companies often don't trust other peoples' audit reports for that reason.

Can I join ETI?

ETI focuses on the responsibilities of companies that outsource their production to other companies, and so do not directly employ the workers involved in making their products. The challenges we tackle include questions such as ‘How can a buying company make sure its buying practices (such as lead times, price negotiations) don't impinge on its suppliers' ability to provide decent conditions for their workers?' and ‘How can a company persuade a supplier to improve conditions if it only takes a small proportion of its production?' For this reason, membership is most relevant for companies that outsource a significant proportion of their production.

I'm an auditor - how do I get ETI accreditation?

Unlike other organisations, we do not have a formal system for registering or accrediting auditing companies for doing inspections against the ETI Base Code, nor do we carry out audits ourselves. That means in principle there is nothing to stop any third company carrying out an audit of a supplier against the ETI Base Code, but we strongly recommend that they can offer an audit team that has the necessary skills to obtain accurate information about workers' conditions. It's worth noting that in our experience, carrying out audits of working conditions requires very different skills to those required for other types of audits - for example, financial, environmental or quality audits.