UN Guiding Principles Through the Eyes of a Social Auditor

Danuta Kedzierska shares her takeaways from the course
For the past three years, SAI has conducted a course on the UN Guiding Principles, focused on exposing various stakeholders to the principles and illuminating how companies can promote human rights throughout their business practices.
One participant in the most recent UNGP course was Danuta Kedzierska, a social auditor and product manager at TUV Rheinland in Poland. Before attending SAI's recent UNGP course in Copenhagen, Danuta felt slightly apprehensive, since she was the only auditor attending the course and wondered whether the course would be relevant. However, Danuta left the course satisfied with her greater understanding of the different perspectives, challenges, and strategies related to implementing human rights.
Here are Danuta Kedzierska's biggest takeaways from the course:
1. Stakeholders share a common goal
For Ms. Kedzierska, the most valuable part of the course was discussing human rights implementation with representatives from brands, governments, and NGOs. Each had a different understanding of human rights, and faced different challenges in implementing those rights. By interacting with so many stakeholders, Danuta came to understand her own role as an auditor more fully.
Reflecting on the experience, Ms. Kedzierska says, "It is easy to blame one particular group when human rights are violated. Maybe the auditor is blamed for doing a bad audit, or the buyer is blamed for contracting work without respecting human rights. During this course I realized that ultimately everyone has the same goal; everyone wants to solve the problem [of human rights violations]. Instead of finding someone to blame, try to understand what is going on. Everyone is looking for solutions and best practices, and for how to assess our impact, which is global. Risks vary from country to country, region to region, and industry to industry."
2. The UNGP course is especially useful for auditors
Ms. Kedzierska feels that the course is particularly useful to auditors, because it broadens their perspective. "We perceive the world through our education, experience, and background," all of which can be expanded by attending the UNGP course. This is important, because auditors can become focused on one aspect of auditing in which they excel, and they might neglect other important components of social auditing. "This course will open their eyes to the fact that your specific skill is attached to something bigger. You must remember that human rights have equal status; no one human right is more important than the other."
For instance, social auditing is often focused primarily on health and safety. However, health and safety is only one small piece of the puzzle. If auditors do not keep the bigger picture in mind, they will lose valuable information.
3. More training will increase awareness
Besides the UNGP course, Danuta feels auditors would benefit from other professional development courses and webinars developed by SAI. She says, "Any training is like being in a laboratory, where you receive tools. Then, you have to go into the field and use those tools from the laboratory to achieve your goal. The more experience you have, the more you begin to develop your own tools. You also become interested in how other people have developed these skills." That is why it is important to keep attending different trainings, and why SAI's professional development webinar series is also extremely valuable.
In terms of content, Danuta feels auditors would greatly benefit from more courses about auditing small and medium companies, auditing discrimination, and assessing workers' participation in management. Many of these topics are more difficult to assess than health and safety.
Within Poland, Danuta perceives that there is a lack of awareness regarding the UN Guiding Principles as they relate to business. This leads to misunderstandings about what human rights are. Consumer awareness is also relatively low, but slowly increasing if more people attend trainings and are educated regarding human rights at work, then awareness will increase. Danuta personally would like to see more auditors attend the UNGP course, as well as worker representatives.
In a final reflection, Danuta says, "Everyone wants to do the best job that they can at work. However, for a variety of reasons, such as lack of knowledge or resources, they are unable to. It's easy to blame someone else for not doing good work, but we need to understand why the work was not performed the way we expected it to be performed. As auditors we're encouraged to develop our skillsets." One way to do so is through trainings, where auditors can to listen to various stakeholders, and, like Danuta, may realize that "everyone really wants to solve the problem, and is open for cooperation. Instead of blaming, the only way to really solve the problem is through cooperation and building alliances."
View  upcoming UNGP courses here.
August 2015