From time to time, someone asks me for advice on how to prepare for a factory audit. Since we have run an auditing service for years, we have a few ideas about this.
I collected some of my usual advice in this article*.
*(I am assuming it is a second-party audit that is booked/organized by a potential customer.)
Obviously, you need to give a good impression.
Your customer will expect that all the ‘messy stuff parked on the sides’ will have been removed, the floors and tables carefully cleaned, everybody dressed in their uniforms, and other basics taken care of.
You will probably have briefed the management team of the factory about the upcoming audit and the topics they would usually check.
The day before, it is usually wise to double-check on the quality system and the processes, and it’s a great excuse to do an internal audit at the same time (you run it a few times every year, I’d hope?). Have the person responsible for safety do a 5S/6S audit, too. Use the pressure from the upcoming audit to do some of the “important but not often urgent” work.
And it may be smarter to order some relatively good food in the factory, for the auditor(s) to avoid wasting food in transportation. You give them a bit of extra time to start preparing their report or to better prepare for their afternoon work. They are less stressed out. That may be the best approach, rather than “playing the usual game” and taking them out to a fancy restaurant.
Do you want the factory auditor’s report to be full of photos?
Once their report is out and your customer (or potential customer) gets it, you probably can’t control where that report will be sent out. So, ask the auditing organization if they plan to take photos/videos.
If confidentiality of your processes, or confidentiality of your other customers’ products, is important, you can write something like this to the customer:
We know that second party auditing firms in China like to take a lot of photos, and for the most part this serves the purpose of making long reports that seem more valuable to their clients.
However, a properly trained auditor working to a clear standard (for example ISO 9001) doesn’t need to take photos. He can write comments about the intent, the implementation, and/or or the effectiveness of the processes he is auditing.
So, could you please request your auditing firm to refrain from taking any photos of the product-related documents and of the products? We don’t have permission from our other customers to let anybody take those photos.
For social audits, do you want the auditor to access any personal data?
This is often dealt with in an off-handed way in Asian countries, while it is taken increasingly seriously in Europe (to a greater extent) and other advanced economies.
If this is a concern of yours when deciding how to prepare for a factory audit, you can write something along these lines to the customer:
The auditor can review documents and say it’s OK or it’s not OK, but there is no need to gather any type of personal data or even potential personal identifiers. This would be totally forbidden in Europe, for example.
Also for social audits, are you afraid of violations of the law when it comes to working hours?
It is common, and easy, for an auditor to pick up on this in China. And it is an extremely widespread issue because both the workers and the factory managers want to increase the number of working hours.
A lot of Chinese factories make up false records, and they heavily pressure the operators to tell lies when they are interviewed individually… but it teaches them how to lie! You don’t want to create that type of culture in your company, do you?
It is much better to tell the customer about the situation and to ask them to instruct the auditing company to skip the checkpoint about working hours. It’s the cleanest, simplest approach and it sets the tone for a trustworthy relationship.
If the customer wants to know what the reality is, you can tell them about it, and they can instruct their auditor to check if the “max total working time per week is X hours”, yes or no, rather than checking this point against local law.
What do you think? Are there any other irritating points that you wish you could prevent? Or any tips you can share on how to prepare for a factory audit better?