Tackling Audit Fatigue: A Call for Unity in the Fashion Industry

In an era marked by stringent regulatory demands, the fashion industry faces a pivotal challenge: audit fatigue. This persistent issue, characterized by excessive and repetitive auditing processes, not only strains resources but often fails to deliver substantial improvements in working conditions. As Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence (HREDD) legislation looms on the horizon, the STAR Network's latest position paper, "Audit Fatigue, Facts, Challenges, and a Call for Action," demystifies key arguments, and emerges as a critical manifesto urging unified action to address this systemic problem.

What is Audit Fatigue? Audit fatigue refers to the overwhelming and repetitive process that textile and apparel manufacturers endure from numerous audits conducted by clients, governments, or third-party certifiers. These audits, often duplicative in nature, demand not only the verification of data that may have already been checked but also impose significant operational disruptions. This continuous cycle not only incurs high costs but also diverts attention from proactive measures that could genuinely enhance working conditions and operational efficiency.

The High Cost of Redundancy Audit fatigue is an all-too-familiar burden within the textile and apparel sectors, where the redundancy of checks consumes significant financial and human resources (estimated at several hundreds of millions). These repeated audits divert attention and funds from potential meaningful enhancements in labor practices. The STAR Network highlights the substantial toll these processes have on the industry, advocating for a streamlined approach that prioritizes genuine improvements over procedural compliance.

Demystifying Key Arguments:

Myth 1: Social Audits Enhance Brand Differentiation Many believe that audits are a way for brands to differentiate themselves in a competitive market by maintaining unique standards. However, this approach can lead to unnecessary competition rather than cooperation among brands and retailers. Instead of leveraging audits as a competitive edge, the industry could achieve more by collaborating on unified standards that genuinely enhance worker welfare and sector-wide best practices.

Myth 2: Audits Are Cost-free for Buyers A prevalent misconception is that audits impose financial burdens solely on suppliers, giving buyers no incentive to reduce their frequency. In reality, the costs of audits are indirectly passed on to buyers through higher product prices and the need for substantial compliance departments. More cooperative efforts between buyers and suppliers could streamline processes and reduce these hidden costs.

Myth 3: Buyers Cannot Afford to Take Risks Many brands and retailers argue that the potential reputational damage from non-compliance outweighs the costs of frequent audits. This risk-averse mindset prevents trust in the auditing process and discourages the adoption of shared audit results. Encouraging mutual recognition of audit findings among trusted parties can reduce redundancy, foster trust, and expand due diligence more efficiently.

Myth 4: Audit Companies Need High Audit Volumes

Audit firms naturally resist efforts to reduce audit numbers, fearing loss of business. However, a collaborative industry approach could reposition audit firms to focus on higher-value services like in-depth due diligence and advisory, rather than routine checks. This shift could provide more value to manufacturers and contribute to the overall upliftment of industry standards.

Myth 5: Manufacturers Lack Influence Over Audits 

There's a widespread notion that manufacturers have little control over how audits are conducted, bound to comply with whatever is demanded by customers and regulatory bodies. Yet, manufacturers are closest to labor and have the deepest insights into practical and effective improvements. By uniting and voicing their perspectives, manufacturers can drive significant changes in audit practices and social compliance standards.

The Role of Buying Practices 

The paper also critically examines buying practices within the industry, highlighting how they exacerbate audit fatigue. Demands placed on suppliers to meet conflicting and sometimes contradictory standards without consideration for operational realities contribute to an unsustainable audit culture. The STAR Network advocates for changes in trade practices that better reflect the principles of social sustainability, emphasizing equitable and realistic demands.

Leveraging New Legislation for Reform 

With numerous new pieces of HREDD legislation on the horizon, and estimations that new HREDD legislation could triple to quintuple the workload for supplier factories, the STAR Network views this as an opportunity to call for significant industry reform. It calls for a collective reassessment of the social compliance ecosystem, proposing a shift from a policing model to one rooted in collaboration and mutual support. 

A Unified Call to Action 

With the new HREDD legislation, now is the time for action. We must identify best practices and foster dialogue among international stakeholders to consolidate and simplify audit processes. This unified approach is presented not as an option but as a necessity for the future sustainability of the fashion industry.


The STAR Network's position paper on audit fatigue serves as a wake-up call to the fashion industry. It argues convincingly that the current system of audits, often cumbersome and ineffective, needs a complete overhaul. By advocating for a collaborative approach to audits and standards, the network aims to foster a more equitable and efficient system that genuinely benefits workers and businesses alike. It’s a call to action that resonates with urgency and clarity: unite in the fight against audit fatigue for the betterment of the industry and its workforce. This isn’t just about reducing redundancy; it’s about preparing for the impacts of new HREDD legislation and building a foundation for lasting change and ethical progress in one of the world’s most dynamic industries.

The STAR Network's position paper addresses audit fatigue in the fashion industry, highlighting its costs, debunking myths, and calling for unified action. It proposes streamlining audits and leveraging HREDD legislation to reform social compliance practices, aiming for a more sustainable and ethical industry.
Thomas Hesketh
July 4, 2024
More traceability, for responsible fashion.