Together with my experienced Swedish colleague Johan Holm we arrive in Western India where we have been assigned to audit some of our chemical suppliers. Chemicals are an important raw material for us – used for example as dyes and brightening agents. We are armed with our sustainability audit checklists, but I know from my recent auditor's training that the main reason for visiting a supplier in person is to see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears what goes on in their factory. In practice this will mean interviewing employees as well as the management, and reviewing documents relating to certifications, training, wages and working hours. We have agreed to do the whole audit together, with Johan focusing more on environmental issues and me paying attention to social issues. We plan our questions based on a pre-audit questionnaire submitted by the supplier in advance. Johan asks me to pay special attention to wages, working hours, and issues related to occupational health and safety. He advises me to do everything hands on. This might involve practical tests like turning on safety showers and carefully following safety instructions in practice to make sure they work well.
In the morning, the supplier's management warmly welcome us and give us lab coats and safety footwear for the factory tour. In an initial meeting we introduce Stora Enso, talk about our sustainability priorities, and explain why responsible sourcing is so important for our business.
During the audit, Johan examines environmental issues including air and water emissions, effluent treatment, waste management and chemical storage facilities. We go through our checklist step by step, reviewing the required documents and asking key questions that will help us to assess their performance with regard to our sustainability requirements. The checklist also contains simple instructions like 'Look around in the factory premises for suggestion boxes that enable employees to report any problems or grievances anonymously to the management.
While going through the wage records, working time records and safety records, I select a few employees randomly for private interviews. I then ask them questions about their wages, benefits, working hours and recent absences, to check their answers with the official documents provided by the management. I also ask them how they use and store their personal protective equipment. Some of the interviewees seem a bit intimidated by my questions, and are told by the factory management to relax and answer freely.
Our hosts are very hospitable, and offer us a tasty and healthy, homemade vegetarian lunch. They seem genuinely interested in our sustain- ability requirements, and clearly agree with our overall goals – which makes our work much easier!
After a long day's auditing, we take an Indian auto rickshaw to visit a local temple dedicated to the Hindu god Krishna.
We continue going through documents and interviewing people. After another sumptuous homemade lunch, I meet Johan to discuss our findings, prepare a list of non-conformances, and plan how to communicate them to the supplier. The audit ends with a closing meeting where we discuss good practices and areas for improvement, also agreeing on a timeline for the suggested changes.
Our objective is to make practical and feasible suggestions that will ultimately benefit both the supplier and us. We use our findings to make a Corrective Action Plan and plan follow-ups that will be conducted by our purchasers. Our suppliers are positively receptive to our outsider's perspective on their environmental and social performance.
At the end of the trip, I feel personally satisfied to have been part of the auditing work. Our findings should improve the daily working conditions of our suppliers' employees, and also benefit the local community through improvements such as cleaner air and water.
As an Indian currently based in Finland, I feel well placed to recognise both the company's requirements and the local realities faced by the suppliers and their employees. Companies do not necessarily always understand what the local employees at a supplier's facility want, or how they typically live and work. Communicating such issues effectively is the key to responsible sourcing. It is all about learning from each other and building up shared values.
Responsible sourcing is integral to our supply chain management. We evaluate our suppliers using several tools, including onsite sustainability audits. Wood suppliers are covered by sustainability controls and audits through forest certification and chain-of-custody certification schemes. For suppliers of other materials and services, we have developed sustainability requirements that are included in purchasing agreements. These requirements cover environmental management, health and safety, human and labour rights, and business practices.
Suppliers are carefully selected for sustainability audits based on a variety of factors such as general conditions in their industry and their country of operation, impressions reported by visiting purchasers, and their responses to sustainability questionnaires. The idea behind audits is not to make 'pass' or 'fail' assessments, but to work with our suppliers to identify their strengths and any areas for improvement with respect to their environmental and social performance. Suppliers should ultimately be encouraged to improve their performance because this will benefit their business.