May 20, 2012

MF0013 [Internal Audit and Control] Set1 Q2

Q.2 What is social audit? Is social audit taken seriously by the corporate world? Give examples of corporate undertaking social audit.


Social Audit:-

The social audit is also called social responsibility audit. A business organization exists in society. Hence, it owes certain responsibilities toward society at large. 

As Lord Denning has observed:
The directors of a great company should owe a duty to those who are employed by the company to see that their conditions of service are proper. They should owe a duty to the customers, to the people to whom the goods are supplied, a public duty perhaps, not to expect excessive prices. They should owe a duty also to the community in which they live, not to make the place of production hideous or a nuisance to those who live around.” 

Social audit is mainly concerned with social accounting. It may be noted that social accounting is still in early stage and so social audit also.

Social audit also called Social Responsibility Audit is mainly concerned with social accounting. A continuous audit is basically a perpetual audit, where auditors and his staff constantly engaged in checking the accounts throughout the year. Annual audit is done at the end of the financial year when finalization of accounts has been completed and books of accounts closed. A Balance Sheet audit is mainly concerned with the verifications of items appearing in the Balance Sheet such as share capital, reserve and surplus, current liabilities, fixed assets, current assets, investments etc in detail.

Importance of the Social Policy:
The phenomenal growth of Socially Responsible Funds (now 20% of funds invested in the US), the growing difficulty to attract qualified employees, and the rise of non-governmental organizations able to sue or boycott unethical businesses, demonstrate the vital importance for any business of a well designed Social Policy.

The Ethics Policies will attract long-term investors, increase market shares for the ethical product, strengthen partnerships, and make the employees proud.
The Labor Policies will attract and keep a qualified workforce, and increase productivity, while opening new markets (ethnic minority customers are sensitive to the anti-discrimination policies in the work place).

The Environmental Policies will attract customers interested in the protection of the environment, and investors who fear the risks linked to bad environmental practices, while sometimes reducing the costs with cost-effective modifications of production processes. As for most other components of the Social Policy, serious Environmental Policies will attract Socially Responsible Funds and a qualified workforce (nobody likes polluters!).

The Human Rights Policies, also, will attract Socially Responsible Funds and a qualified workforce. Its most important role, however, is defensive: to prevent boycotts or campaigns of protest that could seriously tarnish the reputation of the company accused of practicing (or being an accomplice of) human rights abuses, and the resulting falling stock prices, loss of market shares, and low-moral work force.

The Community Policies will not only create roots in a local base for the company, it will also increase the productivity of the work force involved in the projects (by developing their leadership and customer service skills, building pride and loyalty with the feeling of being useful).

The Society (or Extra-Community) Policies boost not only the products linked with the policy but also the image of the company. Cause Related Marketing is extremely appreciated by customers because it makes them feel good (allowing them to support charities without spending their time or money), as long as the charities are well chosen and the percentage is not too small (or the ceiling too low).

The Compliance Policies are part of the Social Policy for two reasons. First, by complying with the law, the co. demonstrates it is socially responsible. More importantly, Compliances Policies often go beyond the legal requirements, in order to show concerns for social matters (health, labor, environment, etc.). In many cases, companies build their social image by doing only slightly more than what is required by the law.

Creation of a Social Policy:
Most companies (if not all) already have elements of Social Policy. Often, these are independent pieces of regulation and practices. Most of the time, they are not part of a unique strategy, they are not managed by powerful senior executives, they are not reviewed before any business decisions are made, and they are not used in ways that would produce their full benefits.

    The first step is to have an Independent Social Audit, either Defensive (to prevent lawsuits and boycotts), or Productive (to increase productivity, market shares and long term investment). The audit will identify the stakeholders; clarify the components of a Social Policy that would address the concerns of these stakeholders at either the Defensive or Productive level, or make recommendations on the necessary measures to build the Social Policy.

    The company must be totally involved in the Audit. The Independent Social Audit is neither an inspection (for which the company would dissimulate important pieces) nor is it a situation where the Auditor brings his "one size fits all" solutions. The Auditor is only the coach of a team, composed of senior executives of the company who are working at gathering the information and finding solutions. The Auditor provides the directions, merges the information to create a whole picture of the social situation, and gives advice on the method used by the company to build its Social Policy and on its different aspects. Ultimately, it is the leadership of a company who builds its Social Policy, and then decides on the best way to run the policy (for instance, nomination of a person or creation of a department dedicated to Social Policy issues).

Scope of a Social Audit
The identification of the stakeholders is generally the first task of an audit. However, a Social Auditor does not study each group of stakeholders separately. Stakeholders have to be considered as a whole, because their concerns are not limited to the defense of their immediate interest. As a result, the Social Auditor will work on the components of a company's Social Policy (Ethics, Labor, Environmental, Community, Human Rights, etc.), and for each subject, the Social Auditor will analyze the expectations of all stakeholders.

The scope of the audit generally includes the following policies:
: values the company vows to respect. Policies include the pledge not to participate in (nor engage in business with people involved in) a series of activities that are deemed offensive. This list of unacceptable activities often includes exploitation of children, unethical treatment of animals, damage to the environment, and dealings with undemocratic regimes or with "bad guy" industries (fur, tobacco, guns, etc.).

creation of a working environment allowing all employees to develop their potential. Policies include training, career planning, remunerations and advantages, rewards linked to merit, balance between work and family life, as well as mechanisms that ensure non-discrimination and non-harassment.
Environment: monitoring and reduction of the damage caused to the environment. For instance, policies of reduction of emissions and waste.
Human Rights: making sure the company does not violate human rights nor appears as supporting human rights violators.

 Community: investment in its local community. Policies include partnerships with voluntary local organizations, with financial donations, donations in kind (computers for education, food and clothes for the poor), and employees involvement. The company may initiate or participate to a major project such as the regeneration of a poor neighborhood plagued with unemployment, poverty, low education and racial tensions.

 Society: investment or partnership beyond the community. For instance, Cause Related Marketing (partnership with a charity to market a product while giving a small percentage of the sales to the charity).

 Compliance: Identification of all legal obligations and of the means to comply. Policies must deal with changing rules related to its work force (Labor), its products (Health, Environment, Intellectual property, specific regulations), its administration (Business, Tax), its dealings (supplier and customer liability, Criminal actions).

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