Ethical Trade and Responsible Sourcing Program

On 1 August BRCGS published the Ethical Trade and Responsible Sourcing Program. We spoke to Michael Wilson, Global Head – Ethical Trade and Responsible Sourcing about the process of creating a new Program.

Interview with Michael Wilson, Global Head – Ethical Trade and Responsible Sourcing about the process of creating a new Program.

What lead BRCGS to create the new Ethical Trade and Responsible Sourcing Program?

MW:  Following a strategic review of our service offering in 2015/16 and in consultation with the members of our International Advisory Boards – who represent large global brands; retailers and manufacturers – it was agreed that the array of risks faced by our stakeholders has moved beyond the physical properties of the product itself. Whilst product safety; legality and quality remain critical issues, consumers and other key stakeholders have increased their field of vision – aided hugely by technology and the evolution of collaborative social media platforms - and are looking for greater assurance. Not only around the actual product itself but also the provenance thereof - where the product comes from; how it was made and who was involved in making it. Concerns such as the welfare of workers and conservation of the environment are fast becoming – if not already – front and centre of the concerns expressed by consumers and as an organization that aims to provide the highest level of assurance to the brands we work with, we recognized the need to deepen – and broaden – our field of vision and risk-horizon. In so doing, it became clear that our existing suite of standards did not address many of the concerns raised and so a strategic decision was taken to invest in the development and deployment of additional products designed to deliver comprehensive brand protection and consumer assurance.

It should be noted here that our intention is not to stop with the Ethical Trade and Responsible Sourcing standard. We believe that the trend of the “conscientious consumer” will drive further scrutiny of the value chain and so we have already started the discovery process around other drivers such as Environmental and Governance issues.

 Our vision is the development of a suite of standards that provides comprehensive assurance across the ESG (Environmental; Social and Governance) spectrum underpinned by our relentless focus on product safety and legality.

What does the process of “creating” a Program such as this look like?

MW: In order for change to happen successfully, any resistance to change must be outweighed through a combination of the following:

  • Dis-satisfaction with the status quo
  • A vision of a positive future state – what good looks like
  • First concrete steps towards change.


Looking at how we got to where we are now in the context of the Change Equation above, there was certainly a dis-satisfaction with the status quo. Through extensive consultation with a wide array of stakeholders, we learned that existing programs on offer in the market provide some requirements but not all. For instance, in one particularly prominent program, there is very little control over the experience and competence of the auditors undertaking the audits leaving large gaps in consistency and credibility. In the same program, there is no formal requirement or process for closing out findings raised during an audit leaving non-conformances open for prolonged periods.

On the supplier side, the lack of a single standard that is widely recognized coupled with poor governance and oversight of auditor and audit bodies meant that the same site may need more than one ethical audit. All of this creates and drives a dis-satisfaction with the status-quo.

BRCGS is – and has been for many years – a leading provider of a variety of global standards. Our Food Safety standard, for instance, is the largest third-party certification program in the world and remains the first organization to achieve GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) benchmarked status globally. Our Governance and Compliance program is amongst the most rigorous in the world and we have built a reputation for ensuring the highest standards are implemented and adhered to by our deliver partners – all of whom are accredited certification bodies. With the investment in expert people we have acquired an extensive ethical trade and responsible sourcing skill set. Add this to our legacy of running a tight ship and we believe we have a vision of a positive future state!

 The last factor in the change equation was for is to take the “first concrete steps towards change”. As with the development of all our products, this involved inviting a variety of stakeholders to participate in the process of developing the standard and the supporting audit protocol. This process was thorough and extensive and took 18 months to complete – a BIG first step but a necessary one!

 Did you discover anything new and interesting/surprising during the development process?

MW: The entire process was a learning experience! We learned how NOT to things as much as we learned how to do them. We learnt that the world of Ethical Trade and Social Accountability is painted with a palette of grey rather than black or white and we learned that context is every bit as important as content! With this realization in mind, the world of compliance takes on a different hue and the importance of developing methodologies and techniques to lend objectivity to an often-subjective world became very clear! We recognized that there are many differences between the technical world and the ethical world but there are also many similarities too. The importance of having the right culture within an organization for example. The principle of senior management commitment and having a functional and effective management system were also cross-cutting themes between the 2 pillars and so whilst there are distinct differences there are also several synergies and these could (and should!) be harnessed to drive convergence and a “culture of compliance.”

What makes the BRCGS program different?

MW: Our standard is based upon the ETI Base Code and Core ILO Conventions – that’s no different to any other programs out there at the moment. What is different though is the way that we apply the standard. By framing our standard with a rigorous compliance and governance program, we’re able to bring a level of rigour to the process not seen by other programs. This give confidence to buyers and suppliers alike.

Buyers like this because it builds trust. They trust our standard and are able to rely on it to provide the assurance demanded of them by their customers.

Suppliers like it because it is a measure of their own capabilities and competence and is an independent, impartial and rigorous endorsement of the standards by which they run their business. Anyone can pass an easy test so what’s the value in writing it? Our program delivers a thorough; robust and in-depth scrutiny and provides objective verification that helps our sites set themselves apart from their peers.


If you have any questions, or would like to discuss the Ethical Trade and Responsible Sourcing Program with Michael Wilson directly, please email us at