SA 8000 - Social Accountability Certification

SA 8000 - Social Accountability Certification

SA 8000 - Social Accountability Certification

SA 8000 is an international certification standard that encourages organizations to develop, maintain and apply socially acceptable practices in the workplace. Since its creation in 1989, the Social Accountability International (SAI) organization, an affiliate of the Council on Economic Priorities, is viewed as the most globally accepted independent workplace standard. The SA 8000 standard can be applied to any company, of any size, worldwide.

SA 8000 certification addresses issues including forced and child labor, occupational health and safety, freedom of association and collective bargaining, discrimination, disciplinary practices, working hours, compensation, and management systems.

As well as setting workplace standards worldwide, SA 8000 also embraces existing international agreements, including conventions from the International Labor Organization, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Adopting SA 8000 certification means an organization must consider the social impact of their operations in addition to the conditions under which their employees, partners, and suppliers operate. It can be applied to any company, of any size, worldwide. Certifying your organization against SA 8000 with an SGS audit will help you develop and improve social accountability across your operations. Working with our experienced auditors to implement the most globally accepted workplace standard demonstrates social accountability when bidding for contracts and expanding your organization.

Benefits of SA 8000 Certification Standard

 Proves your commitment to social accountability and to treating your employees ethically and in compliance with global standards

 Improves the management and performance of your supply chain

 Allows you to ensure compliance with global standards and reduce the risk of negligence, public exposure, and possible litigation

 Supports your corporate vision and build and reinforce the loyalty of your employees, customers, and stakeholders

 Enables you to demonstrate proper social accountability when bidding for international contracts or expanding locally to accommodate new business

 SA 8000 certification leads to better-performing processes, increasing skillful talent, consistent and compliant supply chains, and more sustainable customer relationships, delivering profitable competitive advantage.

The 9 requirements of the SA8000 standard

The SA8000 standard is based on the UN Declaration of Human Rights, national labor laws, and international human rights norms. SA8000 is a voluntary standard for social compliance used by many third-party auditors. An audit of your supplier using the SA8000 standard will verify the following nine requirements:

1. Child labor

An audit using the SA8000 standard will look for violations involving child labor. Adherence to local and national laws will generally mean that a supplier is compliant with this section. Besides age restrictions, the standard requires that:

 Young workers meet compulsory education laws and do not work doing school hours

 Young workers do not work more than eight hours per day; and

 Children or young workers are not subject to unsafe working conditions

2. Forced labor

This requirement ensures that a supplier is not employing forced or slave labor and not withholding personal documents, salary, or benefits from workers. It also requires that staff have the right to leave the workplace at the end of each workday.

Forced labor is an important aspect of social compliance that has made its way into some specific legislature outside of voluntary standards. California addressed the issue of forced labor statewide with the Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which took effect in 2012.

3. Health and safety

Health and safety is a broader requirement of the SA8000 standard concerning minimizing or eliminating hazards in the workplace. This section has many areas in common with the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970 in the United States. There are some specific requirements, such as:

 Organizations must assess health risks for new, expectant, and nursing mothers

 Staff must be provided with appropriate protective equipment (e.g. hardhats, gloves, respirators); and

 Staff must have free access to clean toilet facilities, potable water, and sanitary facilities for food storage

4. Freedom of association and collective bargaining

The point of freedom of association and collective bargaining is one that can be somewhat contended by local or national law. The requirement allows workers the right to organize trade unions of their choosing.

 But then there are countries like China, which restricts membership to those trade unions that fall under the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (see trade unions in China). SA8000 has a provision to address this, requiring organizations to allow workers to freely elect their own representatives. It also protects workers belonging to unions from discrimination, harassment, or intimidation.

5. Discrimination

The SA8000 standard protects workers from discrimination on the basis of race, origin, caste, gender, religion, political affiliation, and many other attributes.

Suppliers that meet this requirement cannot interfere with exercises of worker’s rights to certain practices related to religion, such as prayer. Suppliers cannot allow abusive, threatening, or coercive behavior in the workplace. And suppliers cannot force staff to take pregnancy or virginity tests.

6. Disciplinary practices

This standard requires that suppliers treat staff with “dignity and respect”. This forbids inhumane treatment, corporal punishment, coercion, or verbal abuse.

7. Working hours

Similar to the standard’s section addressing collective bargaining, local or national laws can also grant suppliers more leniencies with regard to working hours. Suppliers are required to allow at least one day of rest following six consecutive days of working. But an exception is made for national laws that allow for more work time and agreements reached by collective bargaining.

Aside from standard working hours, SA8000 touches on overtime as well. Suppliers must make overtime voluntary, and overtime hours cannot exceed 12 hours per week.

"Suppliers must make overtime voluntary, and overtime hours cannot exceed 12 hours per week."

8. Remuneration

An audit of your supplier using the SA8000 standard will investigate whether or not your supplier is paying a living wage to workers. Wages paid by your supplier need to be enough to cover the basic needs of the staff and allow for discretionary income.

The standard dictates that the supplier cannot withhold or deduct wages for disciplinary reasons unless permitted by national law or collective bargaining agreement. Suppliers must also

reimburse workers for overtime at a premium rate defined by national law or collective bargaining agreement.

9. Management system

In order for one of your suppliers to become SA8000 compliant, there are several steps management must take regarding corrective actions, preventative measures, policies, and documentation. This is a lengthy section outside the scope of this article, but some of the main points are as follows:

 Senior management must inform staff of their intention to comply with SA8000 with a written policy statement

 Your supplier must appropriately document conformance and implementation of the standard

 Your supplier must set up a Social Performance Team (SPT) to oversee implementation of the SA8000 standard, as well as identify and assess risks

 Your supplier must develop a written grievance procedure that is confidential and non-retaliatory; and

 Your supplier must train staff to implement the SA8000 standard


SA8000 serves as a standard for holding your suppliers accountable. It shares many of the common requirements you’d find in a brand compliance standard. And a social compliance audit using the standard can help you to get a clear picture of what’s happening in your supplier’s factory and any potential problems with compliance.

Besides satisfying retailer requirements, an SA8000 audit can help you prevent a sudden halt in production caused by a strike. In September 2017, 6,000 workers at a garment factory in Vietnam went on strike for the inhumane treatment and unreasonable rules.

"SA8000 can help you prevent a sudden halt in production caused by a strike."

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