Compliance at the heart of our business: Tête-à-tête with Karen Betts, Compliance Manager

What are the top strengths of the BRC Global Standards compliance programme?

Compliance lies at the heart of our business and underpins everything we do to ensure our customers have confidence in the integrity of our certification scheme. As such, we continue to invest in this area with an increased budget and continual expansion of our global team of independent, internationally respected auditors to carry out the work. One of our strengths is working closely with our 68 certification body partners who operate globally. The BRC Global Standards compliance team monitors certification bodies’ performance every six months against five defined criteria converting this to a star rating. I am pleased that we saw further ratings improvement this year, with 96% of our partners rated as four or five star.

How does the compliance programme help maintain the consistency of site certification?

BRC Global Standards’ compliance programme tackles issues using a comprehensive range of initiatives which, together, ensure consistency. Just as sites get audited, BRC Global Standards also ‘audits its auditors’. This comprises a combination of witness audits, audits to certificated sites to validate the audit report, as well as certification body office audits to review the training, calibration and support they give auditors. These activities are undertaken on a global scale, by technical experts working for the BRC Global Standards, who also understand the needs of stakeholders and the local markets in which they operate.

The BRC Global Standards Directory retains details of over 26,000 audits completed annually, together with feedback from stakeholders. This helps us identify and focus on the main issues of concern. These are generally around foreign body and food allergen control – often the issues that lead to product recalls and brand reputation damage. Fabrication, hygiene, maintenance issues and ensuring traceability are the other potential concerns. All the data from the compliance work is shared with the rest of the BRC Global Standards team, so we can develop strategies to help sites improve standards such as the development of information webinars, guidelines and training courses.

 Tell us more about the popularity of unannounced audits?

Since offering the choice of unannounced audits in 2007, our stakeholders are increasingly adopting this opportunity for manufacturers to demonstrate their daily commitment to high standards. Unannounced audits accounted for nearly 25% of all UK and Ireland food audits and 7.5% of those in Europe in 2016 – this was a 100% increase from 2015 figures. At BRC Global Standards we support the premise that sites should ‘stay ready’, not ‘get ready’. An audit should not be feared – we like to see it as an opportunity to demonstrate compliance to high standards and the site should not have to expend energy in preparing for it, just do the same great job you do every day. 

 What are the biggest brand risks that the compliance programme helps eliminate?

BRC Global Standards third-party certification aims to help brand owners protect that brand through an independent challenge to their systems during an audit and the opportunity to make continual improvements. In a recent survey brand owners told us that they considered the biggest reputational risk was product fraud and product recalls through allergen and labelling issues. Expectations on controls of these types of areas were toughened in newer versions of the Standards and this is an area of focus during visits to certificated sites. BRC Global Standards review the audit challenge that the auditors have undertaken during the BRC recertification audit to ensure this has been thorough and well understood. This independent confirmation of the audit challenge helps to eliminate brand risk.  

Can you share some tips for sites to improve their compliance with BRC Global Standards?

It is no coincidence that all the BRC Global Standards begin with management commitment requirements as we genuinely believe that the culture of a site should support compliance with the expectations of the Global Standards. We don’t expect any different working practices on or nearing an audit day or that the audit is a ‘technical responsibility’. Sites do, however, need to have the right people with experience and training to understand the importance of clear and easy to follow processes. As we’ve talked about, the issues that we and stakeholders come across are hygiene, foreign body and allergen controls – these are day to day issues that many of the workforce impact on so it’s important that people understand the role they have in ensuring the production and delivery of high quality products. Management need to support and train staff to give them the confidence to do a great job every day.

To know more about the BRC Global Standards compliance programme, contact us