Can Socially Responsible Public Procurement Change the Marketplace for the Better?

This post, written by Jonathan Messinger, originally appeared on Public Spend Forum

Yesterday, we included in our news round-up a story from the San Francisco Chronicle about California’s attempt to weed out forced labor from the supply chains of companies based in the state. It’s a massive undertaking, no doubt, and passed two years ago, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act is just beginning to make strides. The legislation requires that companies with at least $100 million in sales disclose how they’re monitoring the working conditions throughout their supply chain and how their suppliers are obeying codes of conduct. So far, some 600 California companies have at least minimally complied.

It’s an interesting story about how a law in even a single state can begin to affect change in the worldwide supply chain. The issue of forced labor, child labor and human trafficking is massive and complex, but through procurement law a large number of companies in the U.S. can’t exploit it. I was thinking of this when I read a piece by Albert Sánchez Graelis, a law professor at the University of Leicester, discussing a recent paper on public procurement and social responsibility. I’ll get to Graelis’s points in a minute, but want to spend a minute looking at John Robinson, Jr’s paper, “Social Public Procurement: Corporate Responsibility Without Regulation,” which looks at social public procurement regulations in the EU.

Robinson’s argument is that the EU’s socially responsible procurement initiatives can help achieve social goals when legislation fails. He points to Congress’s Corporate Code of Conduct Act, first introduced in 2000, which subsequently failed to pass three times. When Congress is unable to enact such legislation, Robinson argues that procurement’s “power of the purse” can be an effective alternative path.

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