For the third in series of blog posts in January, I am continuing to draw on the fabulous Sustainability Toolkit, developed by the Major Projects Association with the help and support of PA Consulting.

This week, I am looking at the SMETA Ethical Trade Audit.


“Social audits enable businesses to assess their suppliers, monitor health and safety for workers, and signal zero tolerance of human rights abuses such as child and forced labour. Once an audit is complete, buyer and supplier businesses can work together to address any issues, based on a Corrective Action Plan (CAPR).” SMETA Website

Ethical auditing goes to the heart of two aspects of business that are difficult and painful for the majority of organizations.

The first is the issue of protecting yourselves and your projects from reputational damage arising perhaps deep in your supply chain. Something that increasingly generates headlines and for which stakeholders and consumers at large are particularly unforgiving (and rightly so). We covered the issue of eliminating modern slavery in major projects in our summer webinar with WMG, HS2 and Sir Robert MacAlpine.

The second is the challenge of representing intangible value in your projects. Clearly sustainable projects are not just the sum of what assets the project generates at what cost but also on what basis they were generated and intangible benefits or disbenefits associated with your activity. Which was a theme we explored back in 2019 with a hybrid event in the Bentley Academy: How do we define and measure the value of major projects beyond money.

The SMETA Audit process is built around four pillars: Labour standards, business ethics, health and safety, and environment and enables you to:

  • Build supply chain transparency
  • Ensure decent working conditions and human rights in your supply chain
  • Comply with statutory requirements such as the Modern Slavery Act 2015
  • Prevent unauthorised subcontracting
  • Generate an accurate picture of ethical compliance in your supply chain
  • Foster collaborative relationships with suppliers and trading partners
  • Improve brand image and increase customer loyalty

In their ground–breaking 2009 book Images of Projects, Mark Winter and Tony Szczepanek suggested seven core perpsectives organizations should use to understand the value and health of their projects:

  1. Projects as social processes
  2. Projects as political processes
  3. Projects as intervention processes
  4. Projects as value creation processes
  5. Projects as development processes
  6. Projects as temporary organizations
  7. Projects as change processes

“Value doesn’t just mean financial value, it also covers other types of value and benefit such as social improvements, contributions towards economic regeneration, and contributions towards protecting the environment” Images of Projects

Far too many projects (in their initiation and their management) can be characterised by the old cliché that those running them ‘know the cost of everything and the value of nothing’. The SMETA social audit is one obvious way in which organizations can shift the focus on their projects from costs and inputs to outcomes.

Take a look at the Association’s Sustainability Toolkit