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”
By Nicole Vander Meulen Legal and Policy Associate, ICAR
“It’s like you are working with no hope because you are doing work that can’t sustain your life.”
These words, said by a factory worker in Haiti, reflect a reality on the ground in the production of goods that ultimately end up in the hands of the U.S. government. Working in a factory that, as of 2013, produced camouflage clothing for the U.S. government, this laborer describes not having access to potable water during work and being paid wages so low that he could not afford to buy shoes. “It’s a task for the U.S. government, which advocates the rule of law, to watch how these clothes are being made,” he says. “But I don’t think it is watching this.”
By Liz Cooper Research and Policy Manager, Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability, University of Edinburgh
Universities buy a wide range of goods and services to enable them to fulfil their roles as places of education, research and innovation. These include construction services and supplies, furniture and stationery, electronics (computers, audio visual, etc.), food and catering supplies, travel services, laboratory supplies (equipment, chemicals, pharmaceuticals etc.), books and printing, and waste and recycling services.
A large proportion of these goods and services is bought through frameworks established by collaborative consortia. With ever-more complex supply chains involving workers and organisations globally and locally, there is recognition in the university sector that there are risks of human rights abuses in the production of goods and services we buy. As well as making high level commitments to social responsibility including in relation to the protection of human rights, universities in the UK have been considering workers’ rights in supply chains for a number of years.
Steps towards a sustainable university supply chain
One development which highlights this is the Fairtrade University movement which started in the early 2000s. The University of Edinburgh became a Fairtrade University in 2004, following a student vote, and has since made commitments to fair trade procurement, awareness-raising and research.
By Radu Cucos Assistant Officer, Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
Trafficking in human beings (THB) as modern day slavery is one of the worst forms of human rights violation. Human trafficking is a denial of all the fundamental human rights recognized by the international community, including the rights to liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of thought and expression, to dignity, and the right to a life without violence, exploitation and abuse.
The data on THB estimates is not optimistic. In its 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labour, the International Labour Organization estimates that 20.9 million people are victims of forced labour globally and out of this total number, 14.2 million (68%) are victims of forced labour exploitation. However, few victims are identified and even fewer perpetrators convicted. For example, according to the 2015 US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, 4,443 trafficking convictions were observed worldwide in 2014 and only 216 of them (4.9%) referred to labour trafficking.
Sandstone and granite are used for paving public spaces like streets and squares and for tiling walls and floors in public buildings like office blocks, train stations and airports. This makes public authorities important consumers of natural stone. Despite sustainable procurement policies, governments often opt for the cheapest stone, not taking into account human rights and environmental impacts in production countries.
Child labour and modern slavery in the natural stone industry
China and India are the largest and second largest producers of natural stone worldwide. Research into labour conditions in these countries show adverse human rights impacts, especially in quarries. In a recent study into South Indian granite quarries, ICN found that 10% of stone quarry labourers were children, 50-60% of the labourers were bonded to quarries through debts with high interests and 90% of labourers lacked a formal labour contract. Child labour is an even larger concern in cobble making and crushing waste stone into blue metal chips.Other concerns in both India and China are excessive working hours and health and safety. Working without protective equipment, many natural stone labourers suffer from silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust, and die young. Continue reading. “Public Procurement and Human Rights in the Netherlands: the case of natural stone”
By Andy Davies Director, London Universities Purchasing Consortium
The UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights is currently conducting an inquiry on human rights and business. London Universities Purchasing Consortium (LUPC) is a non-profit professional buying organisation, owned by its members for its members, that aims to secure the best possible value in the acquisition of goods and services, without causing harm to others.
We at LUPC submitted our written evidence this month. We welcomed the UK Government’s updated National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP) through which it has re-iterated its commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the expectation that UK plc should be undertaking human rights due diligence. But in our view, the Government’s updated NAP has missed an opportunity to use its leverage with businesses to scale up the practice of human rights due diligence, by employing public procurement as a powerful instrument of social change.