ASC has published a new policy setting out the next steps for farms and auditors that have made use of remote or postponed auditing in light of the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A temporary policy published in March provided flexibility to auditors and farms during the restrictions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the outbreak, travel was restricted in many countries and regions around the world. This, of course, affected the ability of Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) to carry out some audits, which are required at certified farms on an annual basis. ASC’s temporary COVID-19 policy allowed some audits to be carried out remotely or postponed.
Clarity on next steps
Now that restrictions are being lifted in many countries, ASC has implemented a new exit policy (pdf) to provide clarity on next steps to those farms that made use of one of the exceptions in the temporary policy. This will help maintain the integrity of the ASC programme by ensuring delayed audits are carried out in a timely manner, and remote audits are followed up with on-site visits where necessary.
“As always, our main priority is the health and wellbeing of staff at farms, and auditors, but now that lockdowns are being lifted around the world it’s also important to be clear on what the expectations are for farms that were affected by the restrictions,” said Daniela Ruz, training and CABs account manager at ASC.
“The key thing about the temporary policy was flexibility, providing options for auditors and farms depending on their circumstances, and that means different farms will find themselves in different positions as restrictions are lifted. That’s why our Exit Policy provides clear and simple instructions linked to all of the options provided in the temporary policy.”
The temporary audit policy included a number of different options suitable for different scenarios – for example, farms that required an annual surveillance audit could have postponed this, or if possible could be remotely audited. The new Exit Policy sets out what those farms and their auditors will need to do, and when, based on which option they made use of.
If a farm postponed its annual surveillance audit, for example, the new policy states that the audit will have to take place within three months of travel restrictions being lifted in the relevant country. If the audit took place remotely, the following year’s surveillance audit must take place on-site, and in higher-risk countries, it must be a full audit of all the requirements in the relevant standard.
The temporary policy remains valid until September. As travel restrictions vary depending on the region or country, ASC is evaluating how to extend the policy and an updated version of the policy will be published in August.
ASC will continue to monitor the impact of the global pandemic on farms, auditors, and the certification process, and do all it can to help these stakeholders while upholding the stringent standards required of all ASC certified farms.
ASC has taken numerous steps to help tackle the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak and protect staff and stakeholders. All ASC international travel and sponsored events attracting international travellers have been cancelled until at least the end of September. To support the various national requirements to limit the spread of illness ASC staff around the world are working from home, but remain fully engaged and reachable by email or mobile device.
The new policy can be found on the Programme Assurance page.