Social criteria in public procurement have had a demonstrable effect on improvements in labour rights in the surgical instruments manufacturing sector in Pakistan.
Thousands of surgical instruments are used every day in operations throughout Sweden and the UK. A large proportion of simple surgical instruments, like scissors and forceps, that reach healthcare providers are manufactured in Sialkot, Pakistan. Swedwatch´s previous studies of the industry exposed hazardous working conditions and widespread use of child labour.
In the report Healthier Procurement, Swedwatch and the British Medical Association(BMA) show that since social criteria have been imposed in public contracts of surgical instruments, significant improvements have been noticed on the workshop floors.
Healthier procurement is a follow up on a Swedwatch-report from 2007, which revealed severe labour rights violations. The prohibition of child labour is now strictly enforced, wages are paid in accordance with the minimum wage, and employees are not forced to work overtime.
Challenges remain in health and safety, with workers still operating machinery without personal protective equipment. A specific challenge emphasized by Pakistani manufacturers is the issue of pricing. In some cases prices have not increased since 2007, despite costs incurred through improving working conditions and rising energy prices.
The cost of improving labour standards needs to be considered both by importing companies and public procurers. It is therefore important to evaluate the models used to set social criteria in order not to only award contracts based on price, but give suppliers committed to ethical trade a competitive advantage.
The positive effects of social criteria in procurements of surgical instruments in Sweden and the UK should encourage expansion to other at risk product categories, as well as to other purchasing authorities in Europe.
This is a follow-up on: The Dark side of Healthcare
Made in collaboration with: The British Medical Association.