In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in March, FLOCERT replaced its physical Fairtrade audits by remote audits. How does it feel to conduct an audit without being on-site and how was it perceived by the customer?
JG: Actually, I was curious how it would go. I've done many audits over the years and throughout this time it occurred to me that we could reduce CO2 emissions by not travelling so often, but I was also a bit nervous about making such a change. When the opening meeting went well, communication-wise and technically, things normalised quickly. We continued with the normal procedures and looked at the usual required documents. The customers were very positive and appreciative that FLOCERT could continue its activities and that it had changed its methodologies so quickly.
Of course, remote audits are "a new cup of tea" for our customers who are used to on-site audits. But what did you as an auditor find really different or difficult?
JG: It turned out that for the trader audits that I conduct, there wasn't a big difference, especially if I was familiar with the customer from previous on-site audits. What is important is a stable internet connection and a constructive approach from all parties involved. However, I must say it is intense and I always encourage breaks in order not to lose concentration and focus. In non-virtual audits you have many small breaks like, for example when you go from one office to another or when the customer is getting documents from a colleague. You would not normally consider this as a "break" but in virtual communication you need to allocate some time for this.
FLOCERT has always been proud of its human-focused approach. How can we make sure we keep this focus while conducting a remote audit?
JG: In the future we will hopefully combine the two options: remote and on-site. We will still go on-site and talk to people in person and in their environment, but we will also use data, analytics, virtual communication and documents checks to stay up-to-date on what happens in the field. This way, we will not have to wait until somebody can go in person on-site. A human-focused approach for me means to use all options to ensure that Fairtrade empowers, enables and protects human rights.
Jutta Goss is FLOCERT's Credibility Assurance Manager. She lives in the Austrian mountains, loves outdoor sports and is a passionate bee-keeper.