My Great American Eclipse: a Personal Account

Photo by Jimmy Chin

Eastern Oregon is not like any land I’ve known.  In August it’s hot, dusty and unforgiving.  From the north, upon leaving behind the lush pine forests that line the Columbia River Gorge, we climb up onto the prairie, crowned with rank after rank of whirling wind turbines with distant, ghostly, snow-capped Mount Hood keeping watch.

In time we reach the frontier towns: Condon, Mayfield and, descending into the ancient fossil-beds, the town of Fossil itself.  Places where you just know everyone will know everyone else, with courthouse, mercantile store, church and school.  Now the town is readying for the throng, for people drawn from far and wide, from the great western cities of Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and beyond, all of whom will come to witness the Event.

We push further south.  Hawks ride the thermals over the rocky escarpments that line the winding highway.  There are fields of cattle, creeks, but few trees to provide shelter from the scorching sun.  As we near Mitchell, population 130, we leave the road to marvel at the polychrome Painted Hills, their bands of oxidised iron and manganese hinting at the ancient history of the land, when tropical rainforest gave way to gentler, deciduous climes.

Finally we reach our viewing site, a lonely farmhouse dropped alongside Thompson Creek, among the slopes.  As the sun sets, a herd of elk drops down from the ridge, driven onto the grassy pasture by a pair of mighty bulls with giant antlers.  The farmers watch and tell hunting stories of day-long stalkings before finally felling the giant beasts.  Bob talks of adding another great trophy to his farmhouse this season.

There is to be no campfire.  The horizon is laced with wildfire smoke.  The farmers worry about their livestock that roam the parched land, where each summer a lightning fork, a careless camper or even a hot car on a dry verge can torch thousands of acres.  The newspaper says a million people have come to the land and the risk is even higher.

In the morning, the sun shines brightly over the hills.  There is some high cloud making for early haze, but as the sun climbs and warms the land, any lingering doubts dissipate with it.  The scene is set as our group gathers on the farmers’ lawn that slopes away from the house.  The view is perfect.  With eyes protected, we see first contact as the moon starts to eat away at the sun’s yellow disk.

As the hour passes, the sun seems to lose her power.  Gradually the bright, warming morning sunlight gives way to an eerie dimness and sharpening shadows.  The air turns cool.  In time, we will need a sweater, even blowing on our fingers.  Our anticipation builds.  The farmers’ dogs get restless, perhaps sensing our excitement, perhaps from some primeval knowledge of their own.  Then the sun’s crescent narrows to a slither, and as darkness finally descends, at last it’s safe to look.

The spectacle of totality is truly other-worldly, unreal, almost beyond description.  No partial eclipse I’ve witnessed can approximate, nor come anywhere near the display we are seeing.  The sky is a deep purple overhead, dotted with the brightest stars.  We see Regulus nearby as expected and higher, Venus overlooks the scene.  It’s now cold, but to the north, distant slopes are still bathed in sunlight.  For us it’s less a like a sunset and more like a dark shroud has been drawn over land and sky.

The moon itself is a black jewel set at the heart of the shimmering silver-white crown that has been revealed to us.  We see three distinct coronal spikes, two on one side and one on the other, as if the moon were superimposed upon a glowing white arrowhead, with a ring of white fire in between.  Through my field glasses I look for flecks of red around the moon’s edge and I find two solar prominences at twelve o’clock and at three, with signs of others here and there.

The feeling is one of great elation, an overwhelming sense of well-being, that gives way to the emotion and relief that comes with arrival at the end of the journey.  We just can’t resist the compulsion to express the sheer joy of it.  And then, after what was only a couple of minutes, it ends with a burst of the purest, brightest, whitest light that we have ever seen.  It is the greatest finale of them all.  My daughter says it’s like seeing God.

The returning warmth brings with it renewed hope for the future.  We say sad goodbyes and turn northward, back the way we came.  Our visit has been all too brief.  Eyes protected again, Alice watches the moon’s dark disk leave the sun, and as they part, and we enjoy the afternoon sunlight on the Columbia river flowing out to the Pacific, she speaks of her sense of loss and of her compelling need to regain that overwhelming feeling once again.



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Five Good Reasons to Attend This Year’s LUPC & SUPC Conference

Our hugely popular annual conference is this year scheduled for Wednesday, 24 May at prestigious (and spacious!) County Hall on London’s South Bank and it’s free for our Members to attend.  Once again we’re staging the conference in close collaboration with our colleagues at Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium.

Booked to come along, but not sure if you can spare the time?  Why should you and your team take time out to attend Collaboration in Action 2017, when you’re so busy in the office?

Well, here are five (we think) pretty good reasons for coming along:

  1. Network with colleagues who are interested in the same things as you. We’re running special category-specific workshops at conference so you can hear the latest developments in the Estates, Marketing, Professional Services and STEMed categories.  They’re essential if you want to stay informed and get the best deals for your institution.
  1. Acquire new skills and knowledge!  Roll-up at one of our workshops to find out how to get more from framework agreements, about eAuctions, managing commodity price risk, managing cyber security, managing internal stakeholders and brush up on your communication skills.
  1. Hear how the future could affect procurement for your institution.  A year on from the Referendum, hear procurement author and commentator Peter Smith’s views on what you should be doing to prepare for Brexit.  And catch up with Dr John Glen from Cranfield University and his views on what the future holds for the economy.
  1. Hear experts and join the debate about tackling Modern Slavery in the supply chain and what your institution needs to be doing to manage the risks and comply with the legislation.
  1. Meet with over 60 suppliers that have beaten off intense competition and passed rigorous selection processes to offer goods and services to our Members at advantageous terms.  Try doing that in a single day without coming to an event like this, laid on especially for you, our Members!

…and then (as if that’s not enough) stick around for a drink with colleagues (courtesy of Veale Wasbrough Vizards).   Don’t miss it!

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No 1 on my Bucket List

I’ve long had a personal interest in astronomy and though I’m by no means a serious enthusiast (I don’t even own a telescope), I’ve been keen to observe the occasional celestial event, often from my own back yard.

The half-century or so that I’ve been on this earth has been studded with a number of astronomical happenings that I’ve managed to catch from time to time.  And The Big One, that is, No 1 on my personal ‘Bucket List’ is coming along this summer.

In all I’ve been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, three times in my life.  None of the displays were especially spectacular, unfortunately.  The first was a shimmering, if faint, white curtain in the sky over Caithness in northern Scotland in the 1990s.  I then saw something similar from an aircraft returning over the Arctic Circle from New York.   But the best was a bright green array of horizon-hugging glows and high, soaring searchlights stretching up to the zenith over our borrowed cabin at Cross Lake, Minnesota, in 2003.

A favourite book, owned as a child, would foretell celestial events far off in the future, at least to the nine-year-old who received Astronomy in Colour by Peter Lancaster Brown for Christmas 1974.  The book describes the rare transits of Venus that occur in pairs a few years apart and predicted the next pairing in 2004 and 2012, a distant thirty years or more away from the boy that I was.

But that time rolled away and on 8 June 2004, there I was, projecting the sun’s disc through binoculars and a crack in my study curtains, persuading the builders I had in at the time to gaze upon the black dot – the shadow of Venus – crawling slowly across the disc, because they might not see this again in their lifetime.  I’m not sure if they were impressed, but I’m glad I observed it.  It’s twin – the transit in 2012 – was obscured by cloud in London and the next pair won’t be coming around until 10 December 2117.  Yes, that’s a whole century away.

Patrick Moore’s Observer’s Book of Astronomy held another prediction for the young Andy.  My 1970’s copy said that the next total solar eclipse visible from the UK would take place on 11 August 1999.  I knew that I would be 34 by then, which felt ancient to that nine-year-old.  As it happened, I hadn’t banked on having two very young children that summer and the planned trip to Cornwall to witness it never quite came off.  You might know that conditions that day were hardly ideal and the partial eclipse I watched from a car park in Feltham was probably more than they saw down in Falmouth.

It was far from my first partial eclipse.  The very un-scientific Old Moore’s Almanack had confidently predicted one, visible from England, for early in the morning on Sunday, 11 May 1975.  I asked my Dad to wake me at six and despite heavy cloud cover, I did manage to catch a brief glimpse of it low over the eastern horizon.  There had been absolutely no coverage in the media at all.

I observed one more partial solar eclipse from my old home town, on 30 May 1984, not long before I left for university.  This one was early in the evening as I recall, as I remember my TV showing Liverpool playing AS Roma in the European Cup Final.  (Liverpool won on penalties.)  And I’ve lost count of the many lunar eclipses I’ve seen.  I love that copper red and crimson hue the moon turns as the earth’s shadow falls across it.  And then in 1997, from a rented cottage in rural Norfolk, I had a great view of Comet Hale-Bopp for several evenings in a row.

So this year, on 21 August in fact, I hope to finally add that elusive total solar eclipse to my list of scalps.  My grown-up daughter and I are travelling to the United States to witness it.  The moon’s shadow will hit the west coast of Oregon south of Portland in the morning and cross the continent in just 90 minutes or so, heading out into the Atlantic off the South Carolina coast.  We hope to catch it somewhere along the way, doing our best to avoid every astronomer’s sworn enemy – the weather.

Chicago will be our jumping-off point.  You can’t see it from there, but you can fly almost anywhere.  And we’ve booked accommodation in Nashville, Tennessee, in Festus, Missouri, in Lusk on the plains of Wyoming and near Mitchell (Pop. 130) in the Painted Hills of Oregon.  We just have to hope that our forecasters get it right and that we fly into clear skies come that weekend.

But this event will be truly unprecedented, the first Great American Eclipse of the automobile age.  It’s been estimated that a hundred million people live within a day’s drive of the shadow line.  And most of them don’t yet know that it’s coming.

So the weather might not be the only hazard we find ourselves up against!

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Promoting Respect for Human Rights in Supply Chains – What Public Purchasers Can Do

Baroness Young of Hornsey, who is trying to bring transparency to public supply chains.  Photo by Philip Hollis for LUPC.

This article first appeared on Public Spend Forum Europe.  Reproduced by kind permission.

On 24 March this year, the UK House of Commons gives a second reading of a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015, such that the same responsibilities for transparency in supply chains befall public authorities as currently apply to 12,000 UK businesses.  This includes the annual publication of a Statement on Slavery and Human Trafficking, but also seeks to deny the award of major public sector contracts to any business that fails to comply with the Act.

Last year, LUPC welcomed the UK Government’s updated National Action Plan (NAP) through which it re-iterated its commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the expectation that UK plc should be undertaking human rights due diligence.  But in our view, the updated NAP missed the opportunity to use the Government’s leverage with businesses to scale up the practice of human rights due diligence, by employing public procurement as a powerful instrument of social change. While UNGP No.6, in particular, requires that “States should promote respect for human rights by business enterprises with which they conduct commercial transactions,” very little has yet been done to support UK public procurement in fulfilling this responsibility.

Our belief is that, as public servants, we all want to contribute to the aims and values of our employer – be it a local authority, a university or a healthcare agency.  No one really wants to buy goods and services that have been produced in a way that harms or exploits people.  And yet that’s what many of us – unknowingly – are doing, day in and day out. The risk of exposure of these abuses in an uncontrolled way can present reputational risks, too.  These are risks that need to be managed.

At LUPC we’re now busy working up a guidance document for public procurement practitioners on promoting respect for human rights in the supply chain.  We’re aiming to produce a practical, step-by-step guide that will be about 16-20 pages long and will be distributed freely, hopefully after a launch at our Members’ Conference in May.  In thinking carefully about what public purchasers can reasonably do to promote respect for human rights in their supply chains, we’ve come up with what some might think of as a controversial view.   We believe that the issue is not best dealt with in the tendering process.

We need suppliers to demonstrate their ability to conduct their own due diligence in their supply chains and share their results with us.  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.

Public purchasers are already obliged to line up a long row of hoops for suppliers to jump through – to demonstrate not just their technical or financial capability, but their track record on equalities, sustainability, social value… and the list is getting endless.  Just adding another award criterion – with what would very likely be a miniscule weighting – encourages that ‘tickbox’ approach that we all dread, which just won’t do justice to the problem and most certainly won’t help save workers from exploitation.  We don’t want suppliers to be asked to write yet another policy to score a few more crummy marks – anyone can do that. But the alternative – putting in pass/fail tests – would mean narrowing down the competition far too much, particularly in these early days.  We need to be working with markets to broaden and deepen competencies in this developing area, not push them away.

To carry out due diligence properly, the buyer needs to be in a close working relationship with the supplier.  There’s neither the time nor resources to do this with a whole group of bidders in a tender process, it’s just not practical.  And anyway, with supply chains constantly on the move, the exercise would be out of date before the contract can be awarded. Moreover, to make effective use of limited resources, public purchasers need to address spend categories in order of risk, by addressing those product groups and source countries that represent the highest risk first.  By addressing human rights risks primarily in the tender process, we’d be addressing them in the order the contracts come up for renewal, which is neither efficient nor effective.

So how should public purchasers promote respect for human rights in their supply chains? Well, here’s the bad news: it’s not going to be easy.  Despite what they tell you, it can’t be resolved by signing up to some piece of software. Those people are selling snake oil.  The main tools for protecting human rights are, currently, supply chain mapping and monitoring.  They are imperfect, and they are also costly, resource-intensive and time-consuming. It’s not a superficial exercise.  This is definitely not just another hoop.

At best, labour rights abuses involve breaches of local or international labour laws. At worst, workers’ exploitation is slavery, a criminal act in every country in the world. Nevertheless, it is rife in a great many countries.  The International Labour Organisation estimates that 21 million people today live a life of enforced servitude – double the total number of direct victims of the African slave trade in the period from 1650 to 1900.  So working to free our public supply chains from all human rights abuses is a far from modest task.  To be successful will require considerable resources and a great deal of time.

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.  Electronics Watch is a prime example of an international co-operation between affiliated public authorities to monitor global electronics supply chains, aiming to protect workers from human rights abuses.  In this way, dedicated category experts work with industry leaders on behalf of public authorities at a far more affordable cost.

It will take time for more category-specific monitoring organisations to emerge.  But there are lots of things we can be doing in the meantime.  We recommend that conditions are included in every contract with every supplier, if only to make sure that suppliers understand exactly what the public authority’s policy is and to secure their co-operation with it.  But we would warn against threatening termination the minute any human rights abuse is exposed, as this engenders a counter-productive atmosphere of fear and concealment, pushing the problem elsewhere in the supply chain, rather than building the relationships necessary to tackle the problem together.

There are also some simple steps that public purchasers can take in some of the highest-risk categories right here in the UK.  These take little time and resources.  Many smaller contractors in the cleaning and security service industries, for example, employ their workers directly and undertake all the necessary checks themselves, thus reducing the risk of trafficking.  But larger suppliers may need to engage third parties to recruit large groups of workers at short notice.  Public buyers can ask that third-party recruitment is audited by the supplier to check for the tell-tale signs of human trafficking – large numbers of workers resident at a single address, for example, or with sequential bank account numbers.  These actions can be replicated in the food industry, where trafficking has been a major problem.  The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority can offer advice and training on how to check for signs among workers across a range of industries.

In public procurement, just as in private business, our responsibilities are changing and reaching far beyond simple cost reduction.  We are also here to help develop our relationship with business, to help promote socio-economic well-being, help protect the environment and help protect people from exploitation.  We’re no longer just deal-doers. We are risk managers.

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Modern Slavery Act: Deadline approaches for universities

CFTI 2013 Congo visit

UK universities – at least, those that turn over more than £36m per annum – have just three weeks to comply with Home Office guidance for the publication of their Statement on Slavery and Human Trafficking, a key transparency requirement of Part 6 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The guidance requires relevant commercial organisations, including universities, to publish their Statement within six months of their financial year-end.  For most universities, that means by 31 January.

The Statement needs to be approved by the senior governing body, signed by a director (or equivalent) and posted on the institution’s website with a link from the homepage.

As of today, we could find nine Members that have posted a Statement on their website:

Goldsmiths, University of London


Kingston University

London Business School

London Metropolitan University

Royal Holloway, University of London

Royal Veterinary College

UK Shared Business Services Limited

University of London

LUPC’s own, second annual Statement can be found here.

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Collaborative Procurement doesn’t have to exclude SMEs

We’ve just audited the number of our suppliers that meet the criteria for genuine small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Our SMEs contribute a great deal not only to our Members, by providing high quality goods and services, but also to the economy.  Many of our Members find that levels of service and bespoke capability can often be bettered by those suppliers at the smaller end of the scale.

We’ve found that, of the 98 suppliers on framework agreements led by LUPC, 31 of them turn over less than 50m euros (or £42.2m) and employ fewer than 250 people.

We think that, for a collaborative buying consortium where our Members are used to enjoying the benefits and scale economies of our collective buying power, having just under one in three of our supplier community represented by SMEs is a statistic we can be proud of.

Of course, we value our relationships with larger businesses, too!  Remember, every single one of them has been through a rigorous, EU-compliant process.

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“No True Accountability Without Transparency” – a report on the 2nd International Learning Lab on Public Procurement and Human Rights


Angus Warren, CEO of Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges and I were pleased to participate in the second annual workshop of the International Learning Lab on Public Procurement and Human Rights, held at the World Meteorological Organisation’s headquarters in Geneva on 17 November.

LUPC, through our partnership with the Business Human Rights and Environment Research Group (BHRE) at the University of Greenwich, has played a full part in developing the workshop with our colleagues from Europe and the United States.  Ours is the only public procurement authority to be represented on the international steering committee.

The event has grown noticeably in stature since I attended last year.  It’s an opportunity for NGOs, civil society, academia and public procurement practitioners to come together to share knowledge, developments and examples of good practice, broadly with the aim of supporting the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights and, in particular, UNGP6, which requires “States [to] promote respect for human rights by business enterprises with which they conduct commercial transactions”, i.e. through public procurement.  (In August this year, LUPC submitted written evidence to the UK Parliament’s Inquiry on Human Rights and Business making five recommendations to bring UK public procurement into line with UKGP6.)

We were particularly pleased to see more public procurement practitioners presenting their work developing practice in the discipline this year, many more than in the first workshop a year ago.  For me this contributed to a very high quality of discussion.  Of notable distinction were Pauline Göthberg of Swedish County Councils on electronics; Kathryn Schwenn of the City of Madison, Wisconsin, USA on apparel; and we were honoured to hear Trinidad Inostroza, who is Director of ChileCompra, the public procurement agency in Chile.  BHRE’s (and our own) Dr Olga Martin-Ortega updated workshop delegates on our experience with the UK Modern Slavery Act.

The afternoon involved a series of smaller, parallel discussions giving delegates to opportunity to get to grips with the issues in greater depth and for the pioneers to get feedback on their developing thinking and practice.  Topics focused on apparel, electronics (led by Electronics Watch, of course), human trafficking, EU Procurement Directives and security services.

It’s clear that it’s the Nordic countries – in particular Sweden, Norway and Denmark – that have powered ahead of the field when it comes to practising due diligence to protect human rights in public supply chains.  Therese Sjöström launched a new report Agents for Change, updating us on the activities of Swedwatch, an independent, non-profit organisation reporting on Swedish business relations in developing countries, focusing on social and environmental concerns.  The report sets out valuable, practical guidance on implementing social criteria, based on the Swedish experience.

Indeed, the call from public procurement practitioners like us for more practical, useable guidance to help us protect human rights in our supply chains is being heard.  Perhaps the most promising example came from Kevin Funk, in Geneva representing the US General Services Administration.  His Social Sustainability Tool provides “a framework for how best practices and resources for improving social sustainability can be incorporated within procurements”.  In my view this is a fantastic piece of work, drawing together experience and good practice into a useable resource for practitioners.  We’d very much like to see our own Crown Commercial Service – who, happily, accepted our invitation to attend the workshop – take this piece of inspiration and develop something similar for us here in the UK.

Professor Robert Stumberg, who is Director of the Harrison Institute for Public Law at Georgetown University Law Center, for me always brings great clarity to his academic treatment of the subject.  His message – that “you cannot have true accountability without transparency” reminds us that unless we work with our contractors to disclose the right information to the right people, this scourge of our society will be allowed to continue.

Our particular thanks to Nicole Vander Meulen at the international Corporate Accountability Roundtable for her effort and skill in organising this workshop.  

If this sort of thing interests you, register free for the third Greenwich Symposium on Responsible Public Procurement on 8 December at the historic Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.


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