Ethical purchasing a 'low priority' for unions

13 February 2006
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13 February 2006 | Rebecca Ellinor

UK trade unions should review their procurement policies to ensure goods and services are sourced ethically.

That is one of the recommendations from three organisations surveying procurement policies. Pressure group No Sweat, ethical sourcing firm Footprint Clothing and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) surveyed unions to gain an understanding of their purchasing policies in relation to ethical and environmental considerations.

The groups agreed unions could play an influential role in the growth of fair trade and sustainable sourcing but found the subject is generally low on their agenda.

Eighty per cent of unions quizzed had no ethical or environmental purchasing policy and of the 20 per cent who did, none had ever reviewed it. Of those without a policy, the majority (78 per cent) said they did not want assistance to draw one up.

The research found price and quality were the most important purchasing criteria for unions, with environmental and ethical responsibilities listed last. But the report said since ethical/environmental companies are usually smaller than the firms they're competing against, they are less able to drive down prices.

The report authors said it was "worrying" that 60 per cent of those surveyed said they would look at suppliers' own policy documents for verification of ethical practices. Equally, they described as a "cause for concern" that the majority said they would cease trading with suppliers if they discovered they were behaving unethically, instead of assisting them to change. "It is surprising unions do not seem to recognise their role as educators and catalysts for change," it said.

In addition to reviewing purchasing policies, the report also recommended a verification body be established to monitor companies' codes of conduct and ethical claims.

Eleven unions, representing 37 per cent of the total UK union membership, responded to the survey.

* The Welsh Assembly government is conducting a consultation on its "Welsh International Sustainable Development Framework". The country gains new powers in April to play a fuller role in international development, providing a response to overseas emergencies and assisting in alleviating poverty in developing countries. Among proposals in the framework is that ethical purchasing options are considered in public-sector procurement. The consultation ends on 2 March.


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