Share your views: Assurance Code Consultation

Assurance is about assessing whether someone meets a set of requirements. It’s a cornerstone of credible sustainability standards systems, particularly where the participating enterprises are making claims about their practices or sustainability performance. The Assurance Code v1.2 is out for consultation until the 1st October – take this opportunity to share your views.

The foundation of credible assurance is that the systems we put in place result in accurate assessments of compliance with the requirements.  That means that auditors understand the standard, are competent to evaluate compliance with it, and are honest and diligent.  It means that the assessment process is sufficiently robust to justify the types of claims being made as a result of compliance.  And it means that there is sufficient oversight of how assurance is being carried out to ensure this happens consistently and competently over time.  Assurance is about consistent, competent, impartial assessment of performance.  But is that all it’s about?

Ultimately, in the context of sustainability, assurance is a tool to support achievement of social, environmental and economic impacts.  It is one piece of the puzzle and one core strategy among many that sustainability standards use to incentivise better practices and sustainability outcomes.  If we think about the role of assurance in this broader context of contributing to achievement of sustainability outcomes, what does that mean for what we’re trying to achieve and what good practice looks like?  That’s the question we asked in drafting the second revised version of ISEAL’s Assurance Code of Good Practices.

We made some major changes to draft version 1.2 of the Assurance Code.  Foremost among these is structuring the Code according to a set of Desired Outcomes – the things we think we need to achieve in order for the assurance system to best contribute to the ultimate goal of supporting delivery of sustainability impacts.  While the new framework emphasises the primary role of assurance in delivering accurate assessments of compliance, we are proposing two other, equally important goals – that the effectiveness and efficiency of assurance is improved over time, and that the assurance system is accessible and adds value to clients.

Looking at each of these in turn, it is clear that in the very dynamic sustainability landscape in which we operate, there is a lot of pressure to improve both the effectiveness of the assurance process – to better mitigate companies’ supply chain risks – and the efficiency – to do so more quickly and cheaply.  This continual improvement approach requires that the scheme owner has a good handle on their assurance system so that they can see where to make improvements. In the Assurance Code, we are proposing a risk-based and data driven approach to improving assurance.  First, it is about understanding where are the risks to the integrity of your system.  Then it is about having the data, drawn from multiple sources, to know how you’re performing against those risks, whether changes to the system need to be made, and where there are efficiency gains to be had.  The assurance model needs to be fit for purpose and that means regularly adapting and improving.

One of the ways in which assurance systems are improving is to increase both accessibility and value provided.  Traditionally, assurance was and still is a compliance check, a policing of practices to make sure you’re doing a good job, as defined by us.  That ‘us and them’ separation doesn’t work so well when we’re talking about how to achieve sustainability outcomes.  It’s much more about how does the scheme support enterprises to improve their performance and get recognised for it.  While it can justifiably be argued that assurance already provides value to clients by applying the framework that enables them to assess performance, many sustainability standards are looking beyond that to other means of value creation. This can take the form of continual improvement standards rewarding improved performance over time, data capture and sharing of performance back with the clients, or providing advice to clients during or linked to the assessment process.  This is a nascent area for many sustainability standards but there’s a strong case to be made that if we really want to achieve our sustainability outcomes, we need to be looking at assurance as more than just a compliance assessment.

We’re debating issues like these and would value your input.  You can find a copy of the draft Code and information on how to provide feedback here