Medical instruments for ENT doctor on pale blue

Strengthen the EU public procurement directive from 2014 and make it mandatory to enforce human rights requirements in public contracts. This is one of ten key considerations in a new position paper by Swedwatch, calling on European and Swedish politicians to better utilise public procurement as a tool to mitigate and prevent human rights and environmental impacts in supply chains.

The economic value of public procurement – more than 2 trillion EUR per year or 14 percent of total GDP – makes it a strategic and important area for sustainable development. Not least in countries with low enforcement of human rights and lack decent working conditions and environmental protection, where many products purchased by the public sector are being produced.

For more than a decade Swedwatch has worked on the topic of public procurement, highlighting human rights impacts in public sector supply chains and showed how sustainable public procurement can be used as a tool for positive change. However contracting authorities are not utilising the full potential of socially responsible public procurement.

“Although some contracting authorities enforce and strategically monitor human rights requirements, 55 percent of procurement procedures in the EU use lowest price as the only award criterion, indicating neglect of sustainability aspects. This needs to change; sustainable procurement should be the norm for the public sector”, says Linda Scott Jakobsson, public procurement specialist at Swedwatch.

To shed light on what is needed to enhance and utilise public procurement as an effective tool to support sustainable development across EU member states, Swedwatch has identified ten key considerations for decision-makers in the EU and Sweden. These include the need for a strengthening of the 2014 EU directive on public procurement and aligning it with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights with the aim to safeguard human rights and protect the environment in the producing countries.

Swedwatch also suggests that the proposed EU directive of Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence should apply to all companies including SMEs and provide the possibility for procurers to exclude suppliers not compliant with the directive’s objectives. See the full list of considerations in the position paper.

“With the right preconditions, the public sector could really take a lead on this important issue”, says Linda Scott Jakobsson.


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Although some contracting authorities enforce and strategically monitor human rights requirements, 55 percent of procurement procedures in the EU use lowest price as the only award criterion.

Swedwatch’s key considerations

To the EU Commission:
– Revise the Public Procurement Directive and make sustainability considerations mandatory.
– Ensure alignment between the Public Procurement Directive and human rights standards.
– In relation to the EU directive of Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence (CSDDD); widen the scope to include SMEs and require contracting authorities to ensure that suppliers comply with CSDDD obligations.
– Increase transparency around suppliers’ compliance.
– Build capacity among contracting authorities in EU member states.

To the Swedish Government and political parties:
– As individual Swedish contracting authorities are considered front-runners in a global context, the Swedish government should take lead by aligning its national procurement legislation with the UNGPs and incorporate human rights considerations as mandatory requirements.

– The Government and MEPs should actively support the revision of the EU Public Procurement Directive in order to level the playing field for supplying companies.

More on the topic:

Report: Agents for Change – how public procurers can influence labour conditions in global supply chains. Case studies from Brazil, Pakistan and Thailand (2016)

Report: The Health Paradox – environmental and human rights impacts from pharmaceutical production in India and the need for supply chain transparency (2020)

Report: Trapped in the Kitchen of the World – the situation for migrant workers in Thailand’s poultry industry (2015)

Follow-up report: Healthier Procurement – Improvements to working conditions for surgical instrument manufacture in Pakistan (2015) 

Article: Swedwatch calls for EU pharma strategy to protect rights and environment 

See more from Swedwatch on public procurement

Press contact:
Ami Hedenborg, Media Manager