SA8000 Management Systems a Tool for Social Life Cycle Assessment

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SA8000 Management Systems a Tool for Social Life Cycle Assessment

UNEP's Assessment's 'Guidelines' references SA8000's management systems requirement as an evaluation tool
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UNEP's Assessment's 'Guidelines' references SA8000's management systems requirement as an evaluation tool

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 1:15pm

In 2009, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published its Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment of Products, to set a framework to perform an SLCA for a product. The guidelines seek to provide greater information and knowledge on the three pillar approach towards sustainable development - people, planet, and profit/prosperity - as well as on a product's entire supply chain. The guidelines set forth four phases for a SLCA: 1) the goal and scope of the study; 2) inventory analysis; 3) impact assessment; and 4) interpretation.

Several tools for SLCA are cited in UNEP's Guidelines, including use of SA8000® as a procedural and management tool. The SA8000 Standard's management systems requirement is listed as a sample tool in social life cycle assessment, particularly in terms of the inventory analysis and impact assessment phases. The principles required in the SA8000 Standard provide an approach to evaluating certain stages of the life cycle or chain of a product. SA8000 sets specific standards and provides a management systems approach, whereas the guidelines are focused on information gathering.

SAI's Social Fingerprint® Program takes a similar approach to information gathering across several categories. However, Social Fingerprint® does not assess a specific product, but looks at the social performance of a corporation's code, suppliers, or supply chain. Additionally, Social Fingerprint® takes a management systems approach in its information gathering, evaluation, and approach towards improvement.

The guidelines complement other life cycle assessment tools, including the Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (E-LCA) and Life Cycle Costing (LCC), by providing for a total assessment of products in terms of sustainable development. UNEP's Guidelines suggest that a SLCA be conducted in conformity with ISO 14040, with certain modifications.

The guidelines also classify social impacts by using stakeholder categories and impact categories, in addition to subcategories that cover social and social-economic issues. Additionally, both the costs and benefits of a product are assessed.

  • Stakeholder categories: workers; local community; society; consumers; and value chain actors.
  • Additional stakeholder categories: NGOs; national authorities; future generations; managers; and partners.
  • Impact categories: human rights; working conditions; health and safety; cultural heritage; governance; and social-economic repercussions

About Social Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA): SCLA has emerged as a way to address questions and concerns regarding sustainable development. SLCA takes into account the entirety of a product's life and is composed of all actors and stages in a product's chain. This includes, but is not limited to, an examination of raw materials and resources, production, distribution, use, re-use, maintenance, recycling, and disposal of a product or service.

The impact of a product or service is difficult to ascertain because its life cycle, or chain, is complex and global. SCLAs aim to increase awareness and address concerns about a product's social and socio-economic impact by examining the real and potential impacts, both positive and negative, of a product's life cycle. SCLAs provide a wealth of information that can be utilized in a variety of ways, including identification of means to improve a product's sustainability.


Joleen Ong
+1 (212) 684-1414ext. 243
Social Accountability International (SAI)