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9. Conflict Resolution

Policy Title:        Conflict Resolution

Policy Number:   VPM - 005

Issue Date:         February 16, 2018

Authorization:    SAC Vice President - Higg Index

Distribution:       Internal – All

                            External – All potential and current Eligible FEM Verifiers

 

Table of Contents

1     General Information

2     Reduction of Conflicts During the Verification

3     Escalation of Disagreements

4     Conflict Resolution Process

5     Conflict Resolution Flowchart

 

1     General Information

Higg FEM Verifications are designed to improve the credibility and comparability of Higg Index scores.  The Higg FEM Verification process includes steps, such as training and resources like How to Higg, to ensure that the Facilities and Verifiers are knowledgeable concerning both the expectations and the process. However, in the process of verifying Facility Self-Assessments, it is understood that there may be disagreements between the Facility and Verifiers. 

This SOP aims to minimize the conflict and to create a pathway towards acceptance of the Verification.  It is the hope of the SAC and all stakeholders that all disagreements, questions and concerns can be quickly and efficiently dealt with so that the information can be confidently reviewed and used.  

2     Reduction of Conflicts During the Verification

  1. The On-site Verification Process is designed to increase transparency and reduce disagreements through the following means:
    • Ensuring the Facility understands all discrepancies in scores prior to the closing of on-site Verification. Facilities should not be surprised at any discrepancy (or lack of discrepancies) when they receive their final report
    • Ensuring the Facility understands which discrepancies apply to which questions or expectations
    • Helping the Facility to better understand the questions or expectations where discrepancies have been found
  2. Facilities should ensure that, as much as possible, they understand any issues, discrepancies, inaccuracies, or other pertinent information gathered by the Verifier prior to the Verifier ending the on-site Verification
    • NOTE: While the intent is that most issues are known when the on-site portion of the Verification is completed, Verifiers will not always know all issues at this time; Verifiers may find discrepancies or other issues as they continue to complete their work after they have left the facility
  3. Communication between the Verifier and Facility regarding discrepancies occurs at the following times during the on-site portion of the Verification:
    • Throughout the Verification:
      • As the Verifier discovers or identifies issues, communication may occur that explains their discrepancy(s)
      • The Facility may ask the Verifier about their work and associated discrepancies throughout the verification
    • Daily Wrap-up Meeting – it is suggested that, if the on-site portion of the Verification is more than 1 day, there be a Daily Wrap-Up meeting; this meeting:
      • Discusses any issues or concerns that the Verifier has discovered throughout the day
      • Sets the plan for the remaining portion of the Verification
    • Closing Meeting – at the end of the On-Site portion of the Verification, a closing meeting is conducted where the verifier:
      • Discusses any discrepancies, issues, or concerns that were discovered throughout the Verification
        • Presents any confirmed discrepancies, as well as any known potential discrepancies (that may be confirmed as a discrepancy later)
        • Provides answers to any clarifying questions asked by the Facility
        • If appropriate, the Facility can provide additional information to the Verifier, if the Verifier missed or misunderstood information that led to an improper conclusion
      • The Verifier may request additional information that may need to be sent to the Verifier to clarify or provide additional context (NOTE: These requests should be minimal, as most information should be gathered and/or reviewed during the on-site portion of the Verification)
      • While most discrepancies will be agreed to by the Facility and Verifier at this time, the Facility is not required to agree with all issues presented at the closing meeting, however, they should know and understand (as much as possible) all suspected issues at this time
  1. After the on-site portion of the Verification is complete, the Verifier must complete the Verification work at a later time; Conflicts can be resolved during this process by:
    • Communicating any and all discrepancies to the Facility – this includes:
      • If/when new discrepancies are identified or discovered
      • If/when suspected or possible discrepancies are confirmed as either real or not

3     Escalation of Disagreements through Verification Process

  1. It is the intent of the Verification Process that virtually all discrepancies are agreed to by the Facility and Verifier; however, it is understood that, at times, discrepancies may not be agreed to. When this occurs, these discrepancies may be elevated and resolved. 
  2. Concerns related to a specific discrepancy in score:
    • During the Verification Process and between the Facility and Verifier(s)
      • The goal is that all discrepancies are agreed to during the Verification Process, this is done by:
        • On-Site Verification
          • All discrepancies are presented by the Verifier and discussed
          • The Facility may ask questions and get clarifications from the Verifier
          • The Verifier may provide details about the discrepancy and associated expectation(s)
        • Post Verification
          • All discrepancies are communicated to the Facility
          • The Facility may ask questions and get clarifications from the Verifier
          • The Verifier may provide details about the discrepancy and associated expectation(s)
        • If there are discrepancies that are not agreed to during the Verification process, the Facility may choose to escalate the Discrepancy to the VPM
      • Escalation to the VPM - If the Facility does not agree with a discrepancy, they may choose to escalation the Discrepancy to the VPM (SAC@Sumerra.com) for resolution
        • The Facility must provide:
          • Facility information (name, address, contact information)
          • Verification information (date, who conducted the Verification)
          • Information on the Discrepancy(s) in question
            • Question and Verifier Discrepancy
            • What (or why) the Facility is questioning the Discrepancy
            • What the Facility thinks the discrepancy should be
            • Supporting evidence to validate their point of view
            • Any additional information or data that is pertinent to the decision
          • The VPM may inquire and gather additional information from:
            • The Verifier
            • The Facility
            • Other people or groups as necessary (i.e. local governments for law clarification, other organizations for additional information, etc.)
          • The VPM uses all information and makes a determination on the discrepancy
  1. Disagreements stemming from a Verification deemed unacceptable by the facility
    • These types of disagreements include a Verifier not knowing the Higg FEM rules or process, or was grossly negligent in flowing the Higg FEM rules or process which resulted in many improper Discrepancies or inaccurate information; examples include:
      • The Verifier is supposed to spend 2 days at the verification, but only spends 1 day
      • The Verifier does not do enough interviews to gain the information needed to complete the Verification
      • The Verifies does not conduct a Factory Tour
      • There are many instances of improper scoring
      • NOTE: This does not include:
        • When the Facility does not agree with a few discrepancies
        • When a Verifiers makes minor error(s) in the Verification process that are corrected – for example:
          • There are only a few discrepancies in which the Facility disagrees with the Verifier
          • The Verifier makes a few mistakes in the Verification process but still understands enough of the Facility to make judgements and decisions
        • When a Verifier is unprofessional, rude, mean, or otherwise acts inappropriately to the factory management and/or employees (please see next section for how these issues should be addressed)
      • If the Facility believes they are in this situation, they should do the following:
        • Contact the Verification Firm and inform them of the situation and concern
        • Contact the VPM (SAC@Sumerra.com), sharing the following information:
          • Facility information (name, address, contact information)
          • Verification information (date, who conducted the Verification)
          • Information on the disagreement
          • Details on how the Verifier acted or what the Verifier did/did not do to justify the disagreement
          • What the Facility believes the Verifier should have done
          • Supporting evidence to validate their point of view
          • Any additional information or data that is pertinent to the decision
        • The VPM may inquire and gather additional information from:
          • The Verifier
          • The Facility
          • Other people or groups as necessary
        • The VPM uses all information and makes a determination about next steps
  1. Disagreements stemming from Unprofessional Verifiers
    • ‘Unprofessional Verifiers’ is defined as having a Verifier who:
      • Treats the factory rudely, mean, or otherwise is difficult to work with during the Verification
      • Does not meet timeliness requirements
    • While unprofessional, these Verifications are still valid as the information gained through the process is accurate
      • NOTE: Per above, Facilities may choose to contest individual discrepancies in scoring for individual questions
    • The VPM tracks unprofessional behavior through a survey that is used to populate a Verifier Scorecard
    • Documented unprofessional behavior can lead to the VPM either penalizing or delisting the verifier.
      • If the Facility wishes, they may contact the VPM (SAC@Sumerra.com) outside of or in addition to the survey to provide additional information or to highlight the situation
        • Information to be shared should include:
          • Facility Name, Address and Contact information
          • Verification Date and Name of Verifier
          • Description of the event(s) and situation(s) that are concern
          • Supporting evidence
  1. Unethical Verifiers
    • If the Verifier acts in an unethical manner, or suggests or makes requests that would result in an unethical manner, the Facility should immediately notify the VPM
      • Based on receipt of credible information, an ethics investigation will begin
      • Example may include, but are not limited to:
        • Asking for money, gifts or favors
        • Stating or inferring that certain actions (giving money, hiring certain consultants, giving gifts, etc.) will result in more favorable results, or inferring that by not doing certain things their results will be less favorable
        • Selling services, legitimate or otherwise (NOTE: Verifiers are not to sell services during a verification)

4     Conflict Resolution Process through Verification Process

  1. Concerns related to a specific discrepancy in score:
    • The Verification is complete and the results are provided to the Facility and uploaded into Higg.org
      • If a Challenge is to occur, the VPM must be notified within 2 weeks (14 days) or Verification upload
      • NOTE: Challenges will not be processed by the VPM until the Verification is final
    • The VPM has 2 weeks (14 days) to gather information and make a determination
      • NOTE: In some cases, this may be extended if additional information is still needed and being gathered
      • The VPM gathers information from:
        • The Facility
        • The Verifier(s)
        • Other Groups as necessary (government, other Verification firms, etc.)
      • The VPM makes a determination regarding the discrepancy:
        • Keep the result as defined by the Verifier
        • Modify or adjust the result
      • The VPM notifies the Facility and Verifier of:
        • The final determination
        • Reasons for this determination
      • The VPM determination is final
        • NOTE: As this is a final determination, it is suggested that all pertinent information be provided in and with the initial challenge, as the VPM will not accept new information that may impact the determination after the final determination is complete
  1. Disagreements stemming from a Verification deemed unacceptable by the facility
    • These disagreements can be reported to the VPM at any time up until reporting window is closed; it is recommended that this be reported as quickly as possible so that remediation of the situation can occur
      • If this is to be reported, the VPM must be notified within 2 weeks (14 days) or Verification upload.
    • The VPM has 2 weeks (14 days) to gather information and make a determination
      • NOTE: In some cases, this may be extended if additional information is still being gathered
      • The VPM gathers information from:
        • The Facility
        • The Verifier(s)
        • Other Groups as necessary (government, other Verification firms, etc.)
      • The VPM makes a determination regarding the discrepancy, which may be:
        • Proper Verification – the Verifier acted appropriately and the Verification is legitimate – no additional information needed or work to be done
        • Improper Verification, was conducted but the Verifier did make mistakes or did not follow the process as required, but the Verification is valid. In this instance, The Verifier List SOP would be utilities for addressing the issues with the Verifier
          • NOTE: With this designation the Facility may still challenge individual discrepancies
        • Invalid Verification - the Verification is not valid as the process was not followed close enough to get trusted information that can be used; if this designation is given:
          • The Verification does not need to be uploaded into the Higg system or used by the Facility to represent their Facility
          • Another Verification should be completed and uploaded
          • NOTE: Financial relationships between the Facility, Brand or Retailor and their Verifier and Verification Firm is not under the direction of the SAC or the VPM; therefore, all financial considerations, including requiring the Verification firm to complete another Verification or not paying for an invalid verification is between the Verification Firm and the company that contracted with them; neither the SAC nor the VPM is involved in these discussions or resolutions
        • The VPM notifies the Facility and Verifier of
          • The final determination
          • Reasons for this determination
        • The VPM determination is final
          • NOTE: As this is a final determination, it is suggested that all pertinent information be provided in and with the initial challenge, as the VPM will not accept new information that may impact the determination after the final determination is complete
  1. Unprofessional Verifiers
    • Information on ‘Unprofessional Verifiers’ is accepted by the VPM at any time (there is no time limit)
      • NOTE: It is suggested that information be shared as quickly as possible so that situation can be addressed with the Verifier(s), as appropriate
    • The VPM will gather information from:
      • The Facility
      • The Verifier(s)
      • Other Groups as necessary
    • The VPM uses this information to manage the Verifiers, including determining whether Verifiers stay on the Eligible Verifier List
  2. Unethical Verifiers
    • Information on Unethical Verifiers is accepted by the VPM at any time (there is no time limit)
      • NOTE: It is suggested that information be shared as quickly as possible so that situation and Verifier can be addressed with the Verifier(s), as appropriate
      • The VPM will follow the Ethical Verifier process

 

5     Conflict Resolution Flowchart through Verification Process

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6     Conflict Resolution Outside of Verification Process

It is the intent that information about Facilities in the Higg System accurately represents the Facility.  The purpose of the Verification process is to ensure that the data and information is as accurate as possible.  In most cases, the information will not change until the next cycle occurs.  If/when Facilities adjust and improve, this information will be captured during the next Verification cycle.  However, there may be times in which information is learned about a Facility that is significantly different than what is included in the Higg system.  Typically, this information is negative in nature, although at times it may be positive. This section of the SOP describes what is done when information is learned about a Facility outside of the Verification cycle.

  1. It is the intent to ensure that information about Facilities in the Higg System is accurate – this includes the Verification process, but may also include situations where information is learned about the Facility outside of the Verification process.
  2. The intent is that information is stagnant from one Verification cycle to the next, and that changes occur when a new verification takes place.
  3. If validated information is learned about Facilities that contradict information in the Higg System, the VPM may choose to adjust the information in the Higg System.
  4. Information may be learned by:
    • NGOs
    • SAC Member Companies
    • Verification Companies or Verifiers
    • Other Knowledgeable Individuals
    • The Facility
  5. If any of the above listed organization has information that may significantly change the information contained within the Higg system, they should contact the VPM (SAC@sumerra.com) or the SAC – information should contain
    • Facility Name, address, location, etc.
    • What information was learned
    • How the information was learned and/or verified
    • Proof of the allegation or factory condition, if possible
  6. Examples of information that will be used that may impact information on Facilities include, but are not limited to:
    • When Facilities have been discovered to have significant non-transparency issues and concerns in which the verifier was deceived, misled or lied to
    • When there were ethical issues with Verifiers and/or Facilities
    • If a significant change occurred at the factory that negatively impacts their performance (i.e. the wastewater treatment plant stops functioning and wastewater is dumped untreated into the local waters)
    • There is a significant event at a Facility that demonstrates that they were not meeting expectations in their data and information (i.e. a chemical spill due to poor management practices
    • When information is received, an investigation, led by the VPM, will commence
      • The intent of the investigation is to determine if the information held in the Higg system should be modified
      • The investigation may include:
        • Conversations with:
          • The people/organization that is reporting the information
          • The Facility
          • The Verifier(s) that conducted the last Verification(s)
          • Other Knowledgeable People
        • Document Review
        • Review of other pertinent information, as appropriate
      • The Investigation will be completed as quick as possible, with the focal point being the integrity of the SSAC and SAC information
    • At the end of the investigation, the results will be:
      • No action taken – this is when:
        • The information is not verified and appears to be inaccurate
      • No change to the factory information, but a warning to the Facility is provided and noted in the system – this is when:
        • The information could not be verified but appears to be valid
        • The information is valid but change is not significant (as defined by the VPM)
      • Change to the factory information – this is done when:
        • The information is valid
        • The change is significant
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