1 – Definition of the mission parameters A social audit mission, just like any other audit mission, requires the intervention of a requisitioner explaining his request through a letter of engagement.
This request must be thoroughly analysed by the assessor : scope, guidelines - existing or to be defined -, agreement on the investigation methods and the means to be allocated, identification of the audit recipient(s), mutual commitments.
First of all, the definition of the mission parameters allows the assessor to clarify some points with the requisitioner :
- the objectives set ;
- the scope of the audit (main offices/subsidiaries, upstream/downstream/lateral, geographic, type of business, etc.) ;
- the object of the mission (priority themes of the audit and, if needed, themes related to the realisation of the mission) ;
- the way the mission is organised ;
- how the conclusions are to be delivered.
2 – Realisation of the mission The realisation of a social audit implies the understanding of deviations and their causes, explanations for which are built upon the collation of information collected from different sources (databases, indicators) as well as an understanding of the players themselves.
A social audit – just like any other audit – requires the existence of guidelines. One of the specificities of the social audit is, more often than not, the difficulty of having guidelines available beforehand. The social assessor will then define the audit guidelines, primarily by gathering standards, conduct codes, (internal or external) process codes, conventions or international recommendations, etc. and draft and distribute the audit guidance document - containing the questions - before carrying out the mission.
The collection of data for social audit is done through different methods :
- Collection of documents : social but also economic and financial data ; specific reports, official authorities’ bulletins, public information, information created specifically for the audit, rules and processes, objectives set, etc. ;
- Observation : individual or collective working situations ;
- Interviews with the players concerned (possibly through a survey sample) : individual or collective, internal or external. Questionnaires can also be used.
The data collected are then cross-checked in order to determine the causes of the identified situations. Assessors strive to found their observations on facts and, based on these, to check any opinion or information suggested by the interviewee.
3 – Production and presentation of the report A written report is then handed to the bidder and commented on at the conclusion of the mission. This report includes a summary of the assessor’s observations answering the questions asked in the engagement letter. The report describes the deviations observed, based upon supported and verified facts, the causes of anything which may explain these deviations, and the observed consequences or risks incurred. Based upon these elements, an assessor will be able to provide recommendations, if this is specified in the engagement letter.
4 – Principles of conducting the mission Since it is a question of audit methodology, other assessors must be able to reproduce the social audit approach. The players in the organisation have to be informed of the social audit approach - its reasons, objectives, context and programme. The assessor must not interfere in the internal relationships between players. The conclusions and propositions provided should be distributed freely, in varied forms, to all players concerned. The assessor has to sign the final report.
If the social audit report is integrated into a broader communication (sustainable development report, annual report…), the guidelines must be included as an appendix.
Developing such competencies in countries where the economy is growing as a result of globalisation would represent new assets for the promotion of managerial and good governance practices for all the stakeholders, particularly employees and their representatives. But this is currently out of reach with social audit as it is practised today.