08 December 2008 | Jake Kanter
Buyers in the NHS must develop a clear business plan to address labour standards in their supply chains, according to a paper published today by the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (NHS PASA).
The report called on purchasers to act on ethical procurement and said they should set out a business case to reduce the risk of unethical supply chain activity, such as child labour. It also highlights the benefits of working to improve employment standards among suppliers. These include an increased understanding of how the supply chain operates, better relationships with vendors and potential savings opportunities.
The paper also recommended that procurement teams appoint a senior level champion, ideally someone on the board, who is responsible for ensuring the ethical procurement strategy is implemented. In addition, it called for more training for buyers on the issue and detailed risk assessments on all major purchases.
Its publication is in response to research by PASA and the Ethical Trading Initiative earlier this year, which found a "clear need for more guidance and practical approaches" to ethical health care procurement (Web news, 18 June 2008).
The British Medical Association (BMA) welcomed the report. "As a practising doctor I have been appalled by recent reports of the abuse of labour in the manufacture of some healthcare products," said Dr Mahmood Bhutta, an NHS surgeon and founding member of the BMA Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Group.
"We need to embed an ethos in the NHS that our suppliers should not only demonstrate quality, safety and a competitive price for their goods, but also a responsible attitude to their global workforce."
Health minister Ben Bradshaw said the NHS was in a strong position to influence improvement in labour standards across healthcare supply chains.