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.