Social audits and certifications are not enough to prevent and remedy labour rights abuses in clothing supply chains, according to a report today from a human rights watchdog.

Human Rights Watch called on companies to be “smart” and do more “due diligence” over human rights such as working conditions when selecting a supplier to work with.

Its 28-page report, titled Obsessed with Audit Tools, Missing the Goal: Why Social Audits Can’t Fix Labor Rights Abuses in Global Supply Chains, highlights flaws in the current systems of certification, including apparel.

It also calls on governments not to rely only on audits or certifications as proof of compliance when consideration legislation on businesses over labour rights and environmental standards.

Aruna Kashyap, associate economic justice and rights director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Companies should not rely on social audits and certifications to prove adherence to human rights standards in their own operations or global supply chains.

“Policymakers and regulators should not exempt companies from administrative penalties or civil liability because they have used auditing or certification programmes.”

The report is based on interviews with 20 current or former auditors and analysis of social audits reports and reviewed academic analysis of social audit reports.

It states that certification schemes and social audits vary in how much they enshrine labour rights, adding that “they are not seen as truly independent, but rather heavily influenced, and often financed, by the brands and suppliers themselves”.

It adds that social audits may span only a few days, meaning that issues such as discrimination and harassment, forced labour, child labour and freedom of association could go undetected. Auditors also told researchers that pressure from clients influenced the audit.

Human Rights Watch called for more transparency, describing the social audits and certification industry as “largely opaque”. It said companies should publish findings and corrective actions and disclose who paid for the audit and what the costs covered.

It also said companies should disclose who appointed the firm to conduct the audit, the skills of those doing it, and the methodology used including the timescale.

It recommended that companies use a smart mix of tools to conduct human rights due diligence, developed in consultation with stakeholders, especially affected populations such as workers’ unions and community-based organisations.

It said companies should disclose their supply chains and develop effective and accessible independent grievance redress mechanisms in the country where they are sourcing.

It added that legislation should require companies to develop policies for supporting remediation and procedures for when improvements do not occur, including a responsible exit from a supplier that minimises harm to workers and communities.

For the full report, visit