In the consumer goods industry, BRC Global Standards is known as one of the leading operators of certification systems for product quality and safety. With the new BRCGS Ethical Trade Standard, BRCGS is now leveraging its experience with certification systems in the area of responsible sourcing. In this article, we create an overview of what you can expect from the new standard.

Do we really need another ethical standard? No, we don't - unless it adds significant value compared to existing standards and systems. That, in a nutshell, is exactly the ambition of the BRCGS Ethical Trade Standard (ETRS): to design a certification standard for social compliance that is more robust, credible and effective than other standards out there.

Now for the nitty-gritty: How does the standard hope to accomplish that? Let's take a look at the audit protocol and audit criteria.

  • The BRCGS Ethical Trade and Responsible Sourcing Standard is a certification standard. Unlike many other social audits, sites that comply with the requirements will receive a BRCGS certificate confirming compliance.
  • BRCGS will leverage its broad experience as a system owner by overseeing the certification bodies to ensure the effectiveness, quality and integrity of the certification process. Only auditors and certifiers approved and supervised by BRCGS will be accepted.
  • BRCGS proposes a risk-based process where risk is not based on external parameters, such as a country's reputation, but solely on the performance of the site itself. The process will consist of a risk assessment audit and a full ethical audit. The result the site receives from the risk assessment audit will determine the frequency of the ethical audits.
  • The BRCGS Ethical Standard leverages the synergies between BRCGS product safety audits and ethical audits. Thus, it is possible to combine the risk assessment audit with the product safety audit.
  • The intention is to submit the new system for evaluation to the Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative (SSCI). This fulfills a similar role in social compliance audits as the GFSI assessment does in product safety audits.
  • All audit criteria are aligned with other social compliance standards and protocols, most notably Sedex SMETA. This ensures consistency.

How are the audits conducted?

The BRCGS Ethical Trade Audit is conducted in two separate audits

Phase 1 - Risk Assessment

How well is management functioning in terms of ethical trade and responsible sourcing? This question is answered in the first audit phase, providing a general overview.

The risk assessment can be conducted in the course of another audit and takes up to 4 hours, depending on the size of the site and the number of employees. The assessment can be performed by any qualified BRC auditor.

Phase 2 - Core ETRS Audit

In this phase, the full ethical audit is conducted. This audit may only be performed by a Lead Social Auditor who has passed the BRCGS ETRS Auditor Exam. The audit is aligned with international best practice guidelines and the SMETA audit methodology. The ETRS audit differs from SMETA in the use of certain technical features.

The involvement of DQS

The BRCGS Ethical Trade Standard is the result of a multi-stakeholder process. This includes retailers, suppliers, certification bodies and ethical trade experts. As one of the leading certification bodies, both for BRCGS audits and social compliance audits, DQS has used its expertise and actively contributed to the development process.

Dr. Thijs Willaert represented DQS at the BRCGS Ethical Trade Working Group and knows to what extent the new standard stands out from others: "Almost all standards and systems for social compliance now cover the same topics. For this reason, the focus is now shifting to questions around the effectiveness of audits: Who is allowed to audit, who monitors the auditors and the audit companies, and how can we compare the effectiveness of the different audit systems? These are exactly the areas where BRCGS is now bringing its experience to bear to ensure the credibility of the certification."

What DQS can do for you

DQS is your expert partner for social and sustainability audits. With smooth audit planning, experienced auditors and meaningful audit reports, we contribute to the sustainable success of your organization.

Constanze Illner

Constanze Illner (she/her) is Research and Communications Officer in the area of sustainability and food safety. In this position, she keeps an eye on all important developments in this context and informs our clientele in a monthly newsletter. She also moderates the annual Sustainability Heroes conference.


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