By Alison Elliott Senior Policy Adviser, UNICEF Australia
The business and human rights agenda has gathered pace over the last year in Australia.
Now, three on-going processes represent significant opportunities to strengthen Australian policy and legislation, including in the area of public procurement.
If seized, they offer a chance to better protect individuals and communities against adverse human rights impacts of business activity, reward leading companies and further support corporations to meet their responsibility to respect human rights.
In particular, we recommended the inclusion of a “Transparency in Supply Chains” provision to apply to public bodies, as well as corporations, and to build upon experience, practice and research concerning the first year of implementation of Section 54 of the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA) by UK public buyers.
The booming field of public procurement studies is increasingly open to investigating human rights issues within supply chains. However, little attention has so far been paid to the economic and political impacts of public procurement regulations and practices on gender equality. Gender and sexuality cannot be separated from workers’ rights, fair pay, modern slavery – issues that are of interest to public procurement and human rights scholars and advocates. Gender and sexuality have widely been shown to reinforce occupational segregation of socio-economic classes in the workplace. Continue reading. “Why does Gender Equality Matter to Public Procurement? An African perspective”
The ICESCR is one of the two main human rights treaties worldwide. The Committee is made up of 18 independent experts who monitor implementation of the ICESCR by States parties. In its general comments, the Committee provides guidance on how states’ obligations under the ICESCR should be interpreted.
The Committee’s draft general comment on business and human rights expands on a range of business and human rights issues, drawing on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as well as the ICESCR.
The Modern Slavery Act (“MSA”) defines “commercial entities” as suppliers of goods or services with a total annual turnover of £36 million or more. This includes certain public bodies subject to the UK’s Public Contracts Regulations (2015). Amongst these are over one hundred Universities and Higher Education providers, which receive public funding from the Government at the same time as they act as commercial entities, by charging fees for the services they deliver.
By Théo Jaekel Senior Specialist: Human Rights and Supply Chain, Vinge Law Firm
On 30 November the Swedish Parliament adopted new legislation implementing the 2014 EU Directives on public procurement, but rejected proposed provisions that would have established mandatory social criteria in line with Swedish collective bargaining agreements, and ILO Core Conventions.
During the preceding political debates a clear dividing line could be seen between left and right wing parties on the issue of mandatory social requirements.
Under the Government’s proposals public authorities would have been obliged to include social criteria requiring suppliers to adhere to minimum standards with regards to wages, working hours, and vacation time in line with the prevailing collective bargaining agreement in the relevant industry in Sweden. The provisions would not have demanded that suppliers were a party to a collective bargaining agreement, but rather that they should adhere to the standards set by collective bargaining agreements. Nevertheless, the proposal met with strong resistance from the opposition. Continue reading. “Missed Opportunity for Stronger Public Procurement Legislation in Sweden”
Both draw on principles of fairness, non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality, and equal treatment, as is well known by procurement lawyers around the world.
But recognition of the need for the protection of human rights through public contracts is only now starting to gain traction as a key area of procurement policy and practical application by EU member states.
Public procurement in Poland accounted for 8.7% of the country’s GDP in 2013. Although under the EU average (19%), it still thus accounts for a substantial part of the overall Polish economy.
Moreover, in sectors such as cleaning and private security, public institutions and their tenders represent respectively 60% and 40% of the market share. Public buyers therefore wield great influence over the terms and conditions of service delivery in these areas.
These are also sectors where significant human rights abuses occur, given the situation in the Polish labour market. Many workers do not receive a living wage, and may work up to 350-400 hours per month, while often lacking social insurance, paid holidays or proper and safe working conditions.
Over recent years my organization, Swedwatch, has revealed that goods purchased by public authorities are produced under poor working conditions, and where the risks of other business-related human rights abuses and environmental degradation in and around factories are high.
So, is it possible for government buyers to contribute to positive change by introducing social requirements into public contracts?
Swedish public authorities are generally considered forerunners when it comes to implementing sustainability criteria in their purchasing contracts, by international comparison.
The integration of human rights considerations into federal contracting has sped up drastically under the Obama Administration. By using Executive Authority to amend federal contracting regulations, President Obama has elevated human trafficking, labor rights, and discrimination, making them central concerns of the procurement process. Just this past month, his administration went one step further.
Ambassador Rice noted: “the United States also needs to do more to institutionalize efforts to promote LGBT rights. As part of that commitment, I’m pleased to note that just yesterday a new rule went into effect that explicitly prohibits discrimination by USAID contractors. This rule means that any organization that contracts with USAID must ensure that all people can benefit from its federally-funded programs, regardless of race, religion, disability—or sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s a major step towards ensuring that American assistance is provided in a fair and equitable manner.”Continue reading. “Despite Progress, Challenges Persist for Implementation of Human Rights Reforms in Federal Contracting”