Procurement as an Instrument of Social Change – LUPC Joins Electronics Watch

Thanks to our guest writer Andy Davies, Director, LUPC, for this insight into how the power of purchasing can make a real difference to the lives of people throughout the world who manufacture and supply our goods.

This month the London Universities Purchasing Consortium (LUPC) has become a founder member of Electronics Watch, the part EU-funded, independent monitoring organisation working to achieve respect for labour rights in the global electronics industry through socially responsible public purchasing across Europe.

We believe that procurement can be a very compelling instrument of social change.  As a not-for-profit professional buying organisation run by its members, for its members, we exist with the sole aim of attaining the very best value for money, not just in IT but in the whole range of commodities and services.  We know our own power and we know how to wield it to good effect.  But it also means that we can use that power to further our members' values, values that we all share.

LUPC members care about responsible supply chains.  We are all not-for-profit organisations – higher and further education, research and other institutions in the arts, sciences and cultural sectors.  We believe in having a socially responsible attitude to the way we do business – and to our environmental and socio-economic footprint.

LUPC leads the £100m pa national framework agreement for desktop PCs and notebooks, the largest in the UK higher education sector.  We are best practice leaders in the whole-life costing and environmental performance of the technology we buy.  And our members recognise that we need to do something about conditions for workers manufacturing electronic goods in low-cost countries.

We will add our voice to the call to end the abuse of people manufacturing electronics in low-cost countries.  And Electronics Watch will show us how we can improve our own practice even further to maximise the impact of our purchasing power.  We hope that our members will follow our lead by supporting and contributing to the work of Electronics Watch, monitoring and auditing our supply chains in low-cost countries and calling the major IT multinationals to account.

But it won’t be easy.  Right now there is no comprehensive, credible and independent monitoring system for the electronics industry that involves workers and local civil society organisations.  Public sector buyers with the will to act on labour rights issues do not have an effective way to do so as, acting on their own, they have insufficient leverage over brands, companies and manufacturers.

Established supply chain audit methodologies are not working in many parts of the tech industry.  Governments are either ignoring or failing in the duty to protect human rights by observing the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights.  Companies are having difficulty living up to their responsibilities, while corporate codes of conduct and social auditing policies and practices are failing both in transparency and effectiveness.

Many of the problems are psychological, not physical.  It’s clearly not just a case of checking building or hygiene standards, nor is it about auditing overcrowding or sanitary conditions.   These alleged human rights abuses amount to mental torture, which campaigners have linked to the suicide statistics.

We’re not naive enough to think that we’ll be able to achieve this without the full co-operation of the multi-nationals, which is why Electronics Watch needs to secure a critical mass of public procurement across the EU to force the major players into action.  We need to find new ways to monitor working conditions in the global electronics industry, thereby enabling socially responsible public purchasing across Europe.

Electronics Watch’s first year is going to be about researching and developing those new approaches with the experts.  Using our collective buying power we will put pressure on the major brands to expose the abuse of vulnerable workers and work to resolve these issues.  The human rights – and the lives - of many thousands of people are at stake.

Together, we have the power and influence to make a real difference to people's lives and help put a stop to the abuse, and now, through Electronics Watch, we have the means to make it happen.

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