Social criteria such as labour rights and health and safety should be included in all NHS public procurement contracts to protect those in the supply chain, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.
A report from the BMA and Swedish campaign group SwedWatch found that where social criteria for NHS procurement had been introduced, it produced tangible results and called for this to be rolled out to all NHS public procurement contracts.
The Healthier Procurement report follows a research trip to Pakistan to see whether improvements in working conditions have been instigated since social criteria were embedded into NHS Supply Chain procurement contracts for surgical instruments.
The findings show conditions at factories have improved, as have conditions at the subcontractors working for exporting factories. But for many workshops where no social requirements are mandated, there is little change since manufacturing conditions within the industry were first reported on in 2006, the study found.
Among its several recommendations, the report says that the decisive factor in awarding contracts should not only be price, but ought to include a suppliers’ sustainability performance.
The Labour Standards Assurance System (LSAS) should be broadened to require all suppliers to continually report on progress and allow audits of any approved supplier.
The report also said the UK government should provide explicit policy to support or mandate the protection of labour rights for those procuring on behalf of the NHS or other public bodies.
Dr Mahmood Bhutta, founder of the BMA Medical and Ethical Fair Trade Group, said that a significant proportion of the surgical instruments that reach healthcare providers in the UK are manufactured in Sialkot in Pakistan.
“Our recent factory visits were evidence that the work we have been doing in the UK, and with our partners in Sweden, is having a real impact on the lives of workers in the surgical instrument sector in Pakistan,” he said.
“Conditions have vastly improved, the prohibition of child-labour is now strictly enforced, wages are paid in accordance with the minimum wage, and employees are not forced to work overtime.
However, he added that where no social criteria are required in the procurement process, there has been little change.
“There is a lack of engagement from the UK government with no clear requirement regarding social criteria in healthcare or other public procurement.
“We need all of those in healthcare, on the work floor, in management, and in industry, to do their bit to further support the change we have started to see,” he said.