Human Rights In The Supply Chain – Andy Davies Gets Us Thinking

We commend to you (that phrase has an old-fashioned resonance to it, doesn’t it) a two-part article from Andy Davies, director of the London Universities Purchasing Consortium, titled Promoting Respect for Human Rights in the Supply Chain – the Power of Public Purchasing which we published last week on our Public Spend Forum website.

Davies has been one of the leaders around “sustainable procurement” in the UK public sector for some time, and has been instrumental in Electronics Watch becoming an important force in terms of improving the working conditions of stuff in that industry.

What we like about his article though is that it challenges the accepted norms, in a way that we suspect will change many readers’ thinking. Although he is a big supporter of sustainable procurement initiatives, he argues that putting more and more about those issues into tenders and selection processes may be counter-productive.

In part 1, available here, he explains that purchasers and bidders for public contracts are already obliged to jump through many hoops, he argues – technical, financial, equalities, social value – so just adding another award criterion, “with what would very likely be a miniscule weighting” simply encourages a ‘tickbox’ approach which won’t really help exploited workers. And pass / fail tests run the risk of narrowing competition at too early a stage in the procurement process.

As he says:

Right now, precious few markets supplying the public sector, at least those outside the garment and electronics industries, are yet well placed or mature enough to demonstrate the ability to conduct real due diligence in their own supply chains. In a tender process, this just means we’d get what the bid manager can muster in a three- or four-week tender window, when what we really need is to get right into their corporate capability – by understanding their sourcing process and talking to their own sourcing teams, for example”.

So, he suggests some alternative approaches in the second part of his article, available here.  It is not simple he says, but:

The better news is that the task becomes a lot easier if it is conducted in collaboration between public authorities. The complex tasks of supply chain mapping with suppliers to identify the highest-risk areas, implementing mitigating actions and then monitoring to sniff out abuses as they occur can be a burden shared by public authorities – by sector, nationally and internationally”.

It is worth including key terms in contracts, he believes, but don’t threaten termination the minute any human rights abuse is exposed – this leads to an atmosphere of “fear and concealment”, pushing the problem elsewhere in the supply chain. Building relationships with suppliers and helping them get better is the aim here.

The articles have sparked some comments and debate, so if you have any interest in “sustainable procurement”, do take a look.

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