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A Toolkit for Responsible Businesses
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Joining an Existing Code

In certain industries, groups of companies have already come together to develop joint social compliance systems that individual companies can adopt by joining the group. In most cases these groups either have a code of conduct or are in the process of developing one together.

There are both advantages and disadvantages associated with industry codes.  On the positive side, they capitalize on the experiences and ideas of multiple companies and pool resources to minimize overall effort and time spent on code development.  In addition, in industries such as apparel where many brands tend to share suppliers, a single agreed-upon code ensures that individual suppliers do not undergo numerous audits under diverging codes and can focus on improving compliance with a clear set of standards.

On the negative side, in the course of code development any member company may have to make compromises on certain provisions.  As a company, it is important to understand your supply chain and its risks and challenges before making a decision about joining a group code, in order to ensure that the group code makes strong policy commitments in the areas that are most important and salient to your business.

Examples of industry codes include the Better Work Program for apparel companies, the Better Cotton Initiative’s Production Principles and Criteria for companies throughout the cotton supply chain, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition Code for electronics companies, the Bonsucro Production Standard for companies in the sugarcane supply chain, and Ethical Trading Initiative’s Base Code for companies in a variety of industries.

There are also industry groups that do not require member adherence to a specific code, but that have developed policy statements providing members general code guidance.  One example is the Automotive Industry Action Group.

Similarly, there are multi-stakeholder groups that have developed guidance for a particular product or line of products.  One example is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas Supplement on Tin, Tantalum and Tungsten.

Example In Action

International Trade Centre (ITC) Standards Map

The United Nations’ International Trade Centre (ITC) has developed a Standards Map designed to help companies and organizations navigate the increasingly crowded field of voluntary standards for social compliance.  The Map includes a search function that can be used to review and compare standards by themes or criteria.  It also has fact sheets for each set of standards, as well as links to academic studies, dissertations and research papers to help companies understand the underlying issues that make standards necessary and how standards can help them address those issues. 

By gathering many voluntary standards in one place, the Standards Map helps companies consider all that may apply to their operations so they can make informed decisions about which one(s) to use and where there may be overlap between and among different standards.  Comparing multiple sets of standards can also help companies identify common high-risk areas for their sectors, what issues to address in codes of conduct, potential remediation situations and other issues.

For more information, see the Standards Map.