Public authorities: Agents for change?

REPORT | 15 November 2016
brazil_photo_1-_maurilo_clareto_costa_danwatch_2015_giftiga_insektsmedel_som_ar_forbjudna_i_eu_tillats_i_brasilien-_sasongsarbetare_anvander_som_regel_inte_skyddsutrustning
Coffee plantation in Brazil. Photograph: Maurilo Clareto Costa, Danwatch 2015.

Social criteria in public procurement can improve working conditions in global supply chains, according to a Swedwatch report  directed to public procurement authorities in the EU.

Many procured goods are produced in poor countries where the risk of human rights violations and poor working conditions are substantial. “Agents for Change” is based on three case studies concerning the production of surgical instruments in Pakistan, chicken meat in Thailand and coffee in Brazil. These are all products procured by Swedish contracting authorities and the production constitutes environments where working conditions often are hard and exploitation of workers widespread. In the first case, Swedwatch’s comparative studies from 2007 and 2015 demonstrated improvements in Pakistani factories, including wages and combating child labor, as results of the inclusion of social demands by the county councils, the public units responsible for health care in Sweden. The national collaboration between the 21 county councils and the developed system for applying social criteria, is a good example of how social aspects can be implemented in the procurement process and improve working conditions in practice. The report also shows that several contracting authorities use sustainability certifications when coffee is procured, which can be an effective tool to monitor and verify the social demands.

Although there are several positive examples of how Swedish contracting authorities are working with social criteria, there are still many challenges remaining. Follow-up on set criteria is often lacking. In the example of Thai poultry, Swedwatch’s investigation showed that municipalities and county councils were unaware of the risks of rights violations. Thorough risk-assessment of procured goods is needed to know when the social criteria should be included and monitored.

Resources needed

To enable procurement officers to both carry out risk-assessment and monitoring, policy makers need to provide resources, time and expertise. Cooperation and consolidation of the requirements are also needed to make the implementation of social criteria effective.

Swedwatch’s report also provides practical guidance on socially responsible procurement aimed at policymakers and procurement officers in the EU. The recommendations aim to inspire stakeholders to use social criteria as a tool to reach the UN’s sustainability goals (SDGs).

The report will be presented by Swedwatch at the “International Workshop on Public Procurement and Human Rights” in Geneva on November 17th.

This is a follow-up on: Healthier Procurement