Ethics group calls for robust government involvement

15 December 2010

15 December 2010 | Angeline Albert    

The UK government must play a much stronger role in increasing ethical purchasing across the public sector, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) said this week.

The ETI, whose 70 members include London Underground, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, said in a statement: “Public spending on goods and services dwarfs that of the private sector. Yet many people toil for long hours to produce those in dangerous conditions for poverty wages.”

And speaking at an ETI-hosted ethical procurement workshop earlier this month, Dr Mahmood Bhutta of the British Medical Association, who campaigns for ethical purchasing to be adopted across the NHS, said: “Many of the people in [the NHS] - including doctors, purchasing managers and medical directors - could be potential advocates for change. But a lot of them aren’t aware what ethical trade is. While a lot can be done by organisations such as the ETI and others to train people up and raise their awareness, we need leadership from the top. It seems counter-intuitive that the government states its support for ethical purchasing, but then, so far, has done very little such purchasing with public money. It's time the government caught up with the private sector.”

Beverly Hall of public sector union Prospect said: “If the government can spend £19 billion a year on IT equipment they can jolly well specify in their contracts that workers should be treated in accordance with international labour standards and the Millennium Development Goals.”

ETI deputy director Martin Cooke said: “Ethical procurement doesn't always have to cost more. In fact, the current drive to create greater efficiencies in public spending may create more opportunities for it.”

The Department of Health is expected to issue a response to the ETI statement later today.

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