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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New Cleaning and Security Agreements Help Prevent Human Trafficking

securityLUPC’s brand new, innovative framework agreements for cleaning and security services are specially designed to help prevent human trafficking in these high-risk spend categories.  LUPC is launching both agreements at a free event for Members at the Museum of London on 31 October (0930).

Many of our Members will doubtless be finalising their Slavery and Human Trafficking Statements for publication, as required under Part 6 of the Modern Slavery Act.  These agreements will enable Members to state that, owing to LUPC’s supplier due diligence processes coupled with an in-built supplier management programme, mitigating actions are taken to help manage the risk of human trafficking in these sensitive markets.

All our security services suppliers are committed to responsible provision in accordance with the rule of law and with respect to human rights of all people, while our cleaning contractors have all committed to the ETI Base Code.

Both new framework agreements require that suppliers must work with LUPC to identify and mitigate the risk of potential modern slavery, human trafficking, forced and bonded labour and labour rights violations in its supply chain.  Within 90 days of the commencement date, each supplier must produce a Modern Slavery in the Supply Chain Due Diligence Report identifying the main risks of modern slavery, human trafficking, forced and bonded labour and labour rights violations in its supply chain, highlighting the main areas, countries and suppliers at risk and the steps to be taken to mitigate such risks in the short, medium and long term.

Suppliers must update the Report annually for the duration of the contract.  More regular updates are to be provided when the risks are assessed as imminent, either by the supplier or LUPC.  Suppliers must also draft a Modern Slavery Action Plan and must nominate a person to liaise with LUPC in its drafting and implementation.

Special conditions in the framework agreements were designed by the Business Human Rights and Environment (BHRE) Research Group at the University of Greenwich.

LUPC’s own first Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement was published in December last year.

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It’s Anti-Slavery Day


LUPC became a founding member of Electronics Watch, an independent supply chain monitoring organisation, in 2014.

Today (18 October) is Anti-Slavery Day.  A day for reflection.  A day for thinking about this scourge of our society and what we can do to help alleviate the suffering.

We know that abusing and exploiting people is both easy and lucrative.  The International Labour Organisation estimates that 21,000,000 people across the world are in forced labour.  This evil crime generates $150,000,000,000 in illegal profits around the world, every year.  While here in the United Kingdom, the Home Office estimates that up to 13,000 people are living in modern slavery today.

But we, being involved in the purchase of millions of pounds worth of goods and services every year, with and on behalf of our Members, have the power to influence markets and decision-makers.  We can and do make a difference together.  Purchasing consortia shouldn’t be just about getting better value.  We should also be about getting best value without causing harm to others.

To protect people from modern slavery, human trafficking, forced and bonded labour and other human rights abuses, we in the procurement profession are going to have to acquire new skills.  We will have to learn to do things a little differently.  Like working with our suppliers to find risks in our supply chains, and taking action to mitigate those risks.  We need to be ready to share that responsibility.  This is a problem in our society – not just our supplier base – and that means it’s one we have to work together to manage.

At LUPC, we’ve made a good start, as we hope you’ll agree.  Becoming a leader in ethical and sustainable procurement is an important part of our corporate strategy.  And we think we’ve done quite a lot so far.  But there is a long way to go and a lot more to do.


  • Awards innovative new framework agreement for sustainable waste management services.
  • Becomes founding member of Electronics Watch, an independent monitoring organisation for public buyers in the global electronics industry.



  • Introduces Electronics Watch clauses to new, national higher education agreement for Apple products, requiring suppliers to respect labour standards in Apple’s supply chain.
  • Awards new cleaning and security services agreements committing suppliers to take steps to protect workers from human trafficking.

We know there’s a lot more we can be doing to protect human rights and the environment in our supply chains.  And we’ve learned that we can do much more when we work in collaboration with others.  Now we want to work more closely with students, sustainability managers, academics and other experts, as well as buyers.

And starting when our new LUPC Ethical and Sustainable Procurement Advisory Group meets for the first time on 11 November, we will expand our ethical and sustainable procurement programme, so that we can better reflect the values and direction of our Members.

We will report on our progress.

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Developing collaboration Down Under Part II


In my second and final blog from Sydney (the first is here), I shall be describing what colleagues at the Australian Universities Procurement Network (AUPN) are planning to do to complement the University Procurement Hub and other collaborative activities in HE procurement here in Australia.

Firstly, though, I managed to catch up with Richard Allen yesterday morning at a trendy cafe in Darlington near to his base.  It gave me the ideal opportunity to put to him some of the questions that had occurred to me about the University Procurement Hub.

Richard is director of procurement and CPO at the University of Sydney, Australia’s oldest with 54,000 students.  According to its 2015 financial statements, the university turns over AUS$1.9bn (£1.08bn) and has net assets of AUS$4.2bn (£2.38bn), so, needless to say, his is a big job.  A PPE graduate from the University of Edinburgh with a background in rail and at PwC, he now leads a team of thirteen, including specialists managing all the categories you’d expect.  I asked him first why it was felt necessary to partner with Accenture in establishing and operating the hub.  (Collectively, 17 universities are investing AUS$20m over five years with the aim of saving AUS$300m NPV.)

“Why we are doing it this way is why we haven’t done so in the past.  And as for the investment, it’s equivalent to two FTEs.  It’s not big for us at all.”  Affordable enough for the third largest university, you might think.  But Australian universities do tend to be bigger than their UK counterparts.  The UK’s largest, the University of Manchester, were it possible to transport it and its 38,000 students here, would only rank about 13th in the country by size.

Is he happy that a partner incentivised by gainshare won’t sacrifice quality to achieve their targets?  “Yes, because the Hub’s members aren’t committed to accept any of the contracts Accenture negotiates for us.  The Category Councils will make recommendations, but it will be up to the universities whether they actually take up the deals.”  So none of the members are, in fact, committed to the contracts up-front?  “No, we can’t do that. But I do believe take-up of the first wave of contracts will be strong and that that will give us the momentum to carry forward into the waves that follow.”

“Once the five-year project is over, and skills and knowledge have been transferred, one of our options will be to establish a procurement consortium like LUPC,” Allen said.

One of the main objectives of the Hub is to uplift its members’ procurement capability. Allen intends to achieve this in partnership with AUPN, which is managed for the sector by Higher Ed Services Pty Ltd (HES), based in Sydney’s business district.  On the previous evening, I’d met with HES’s new CEO Andrew Trnacek, himself a former manager at Accenture and latterly a partner at Grant Thornton.  Andrew is keen to build on AUPN’s capability offering.  At present they offer a procurement maturity self-assessment tool, with which they plan to amass benchmarking data.  It sounds very similar in nature to our own PMA.

Andrew and AUPN’s members showed a strong interest in HEPA and in particular, the on-line discussion forum and eLearning package.  My hope is that we will be able to reach a more formal partnership agreement to support HE procurement development in both countries.  It certainly sounds promising.

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