Should Procurement People Work for Repressive Regimes? An Ethical Dilemma, for CIPS As Well

It’s “guess the country” time!

azerbaijan-26800_1280“Corruption in the country is widespread, and the government, which eliminated presidential term limits in a 2009 referendum, has been accused of authoritarianism. Although the poverty rate has been reduced and infrastructure investment has increased substantially in recent years due to revenue from oil and gas production, reforms have not adequately addressed weaknesses in most government institutions, particularly in the education and health sectors, as well as the court system.” (The World Factbook)

“Authorities used imprisonment as a tool for political retribution and forcibly dispersed a number of peaceful demonstrations, indiscriminately arresting activists and passersby. Restrictions on freedom of religion and the prosecution of unregistered religious groups continued.” (Human Rights Watch)

“... with Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranking **** 126th out of 175 for transparency, and scoring a miserable 29 on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (clean). There’s little space to criticise the regime with press freedom tightly controlled”. (The Guardian)

Did you guess? Yes, we are talking Azerbaijan, home of the current European Games. And we’re mentioning it because the procurement around the Games is featured prominently in the current issue of Supply Management magazine – and it is an impressive procurement story.

“Shaun Darke, head of procurement for the Baku 2015 Games, told SM his 34-strong team was responsible for purchasing everything from the venues to the make-up 2,500 athletes will be wearing at the opening ceremony on 12 June, along with organising the artists who will be performing.”

But should procurement people be working for such a repressive regime at all? Human rights groups and journalists, including this one, have been denied visas to attend the event in order to keep the coverage positive.

Some countries flog bloggers, some treat their construction workers like slaves, some restrict the human rights of women. And we support regimes that overthrow democratically elected leaders, because we didn’t like what that leader was doing once elected. There are just so many difficult issues around ethics, particularly when we get to international politics.

That’s why, as well as individuals having to make tricky personal decisions, CIPS has to be careful here. I’m not arguing against their ethics certification idea, and I’m not criticising Darke and his team (I’ve worked for a chocolate firm and a large Bank in my time so I am not beyond ethical criticism in my choice of jobs). But how does the CIPS focus on ethics stack up against Azerbaijan being given a very positive write up in the Institute’s magazine, or CIPS doing business in various countries that might be seen as problematical by some?

The fact is, there aren’t many absolutes in the ethical and moral field, or at least not where business or politics is concerned. Is CIPS going to deny membership to anyone who works with Azerbaijan? Of course not, but the very fact that the issue could be raised highlights the difficulties here.

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First Voice

  1. Dan:

    Who gets to draw the line as to what is ethical or not? Its relatively easy to apply to certain countries that shall remain nameless, but what about corporations such as BP or Nike that have a history of environmental or labour ‘abuses’?

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