Sustainable Public Procurement – Now we can measure progress

June 11, 2020 •

By Daniel Morris and Francesca Thornberry, Danish Institute for Human Rights


There is now a universal methodology to measure how far states have come in utilising public procurement to protect human rights and the environment and this methodology has the potential to guide states’ actions to realise sustainable public procurement in the future.


Sustainable public procurement and sustainable development

Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP) can have a significant impact on a country’s development and play a critical role in promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth by allowing public buyers to prioritise the purchase of goods and services from businesses which respect human rights and the environment. The transformative potential of public procurement as a driver for human rights and sustainable production and consumption is recognised in SDG 12.

SDG Target 12.7 calls on all states to “[p]romote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities”.

This provides an opportunity for states not only to procure from suppliers which deliver the cheapest product quickest but also to prioritise procurement from suppliers which respect human rights and the environment. For example, procurement exercises that place a focus on procuring from suppliers which have effective measures in place to eliminate forced labour and human trafficking, are not only in line with target 12.7, but also support the realisation of targets 8.7 and 16.3 to end child labour, forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking. Including requirements that suppliers respect human rights can be applied to first tier suppliers and cascaded down to sub-contractors both at home and abroad to support the fulfilment of the SDGs across the world.

This Toolkit provide information on how to protect human rights protections through public procurement

How to measure progress on SDG implementation

The 169 SDG targets are measured by 232 indicators in total. These indicators provide a universal measurement framework that allows us to have up-to-date, standardised and comparable data from every state in the world on progress to realise the SDGs. An indicator is specific information on the state or condition of an event, activity or outcome that can be used to assess progress towards a specific target, outcome or benchmark.

The indicator associated with SDG Target 12.7 on sustainable procurement is indicator 12.7.1. This indicator measures the “Number of countries implementing sustainable public procurement policies and action plans.” In March 2020, the calculation methodology for SDG Indicator 12.7.1 was published, and the indicator was reclassified as a Tier II indicator.

The global SDG indicators are categorised in three ‘tiers’ in accordance with their conceptual clarity and data availability.[1] According to the latest classification of the 232 global indicators:

Tier I115 indicators have clear concept, available methodology and standards, and regular data production by countries.
Tier II95 indicators are conceptually clear, have an internationally established methodology and standards are available, but data is not regularly produced by countries.
Tier III2 indicators have no internationally established methodology or standards in place yet

Why is the new calculation methodology for indicator 12.7.1 important?

The calculation methodology for SDG Indicator 12.7.1 was developed by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) with support from One Planet SPP Programme partners. In total 52 experts from 40 different organisations provided input. The methodology was tested in August and September 2019 in 31 states (6 in Africa, 9 in the Americas, 11 in Asia, and 26 in Europe). More information on the pilot testing can be found here.

The One Planet networks notes that “[t]he 12.7.1 methodology is aimed at national governments, guiding policy makers and practitioners. In addition to reporting on SDG 12.7.1, the methodology will offer insights and will identify gaps useful for the implementation of sound sustainable public procurement policies.”

Many efforts at gathering data to measure progress towards the SDGs have been hampered by lack of conceptual clarity as well as lack of data collection capacity. Until April 2020, Indicator 12.7.1 was classified as Tier III, meaning there was no internationally agreed methodology for collecting data of relevance. With the adoption of the new methodology, this indicator has been reclassified as Tier II, meaning that there is now an agreed way to start collecting data on a global scale to measure progress towards SDG Target 12.7. The adoption of this new methodology will also:

  • Allow us to identify, through data collection, what gaps exist and what are the challenges that need to be addressed to achieve SDG Target 12.7;
  • Help shape how states approach public procurement through identification of gaps;
  • Promote coherence and a joined-up approach to addressing the three aspects of sustainable public procurement, which have often been addressed separately.

What are the key features of the new calculation methodology from a human rights perspective?

The methodology of indicator 12.7.1 has been developed to measure how a state is implementing sustainable public procurement (SPP) through policies and in practice at the national and/ or subnational levels. It is designed to be used by all states, from those with advanced SPP measures to those starting to develop measures. The methodology contains 6 scored elements, and a calculation index uses these 6 scores to produce a single score from 0 to 1. The calculation index is available here.

Some notable elements of the methodology to measure SDG Indicator 12.7.1 include:

  • It explicitly recognises all three dimensions of SPP; environmental, social and economic;
  • The social dimension of SPP is explicitly tied to human rights and human rights standards;
  • The methodology contains an indicative list of international treaties and other instruments that are of relevance to SPP. This list includes the ILO’s 8 fundamental Conventions, other key ILO standards, the 9 core UN human rights treaties and other key UN human rights instruments such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
  • Human rights principles and fundamental rights such as equality and non-discrimination are woven into the calculation methodology;
  • Points can be awarded to states which have adopted a specific SPP action plan;
  • A state can choose 3 approaches to scoring points; measuring progress at i) the national level, ii) the sub-national or iii) both the national and sub-national level. If a state chooses approaches ii) and iii) then the progress of cities and regions in realising SPP will be counted;
  • Points can be awarded for practical support for public procurement practitioners, such as guidelines, tools, a helpdesk, and the establishment of networks for practitioners to share good practice;
  • Points can be awarded for the existence of systems to monitor SPP.

The development of a calculation methodology for SDG Indicator 12.7.1 is a positive step forward as it will see every state in the world share comparable data which can be used to measure progress on how states, regions, and cities are protecting human rights and the environment through public procurement. The next step in this process is for states to gather data. This may prove challenging as some states may not have systems and procedures in place to gather the specific data required, and some may require support to establish these. As states begin to gather data they will see where they are scoring points, and where they are not. As a result, this calculation methodology has the potential to guide states’ future actions to realise SPP.