The Greater London Authority is just one of eight authorities to have a standalone ethical procurement policy ©Renáta Sedmáková/
The Greater London Authority is just one of eight authorities to have a standalone ethical procurement policy ©Renáta Sedmáková/

Local government ethical strategies ‘lack depth, rigour and action’

Local authorities (LAs) have been called on to do more to prevent exploitation in their global supply chains.

In a report the union Unison said out of 190 authorities studied only 28% had standalone sustainability procurement policies and just eight (4.2%) had standalone ethical procurement policies that were separate from their sustainability policy.

The report, Ethical Procurement in UK Local Authorities, was produced by campaign group People & Planet on behalf of Unison.Eliminate supply chain slavery logo

Heather Wakefield, head of local government at Unison, said: “Ethical procurement practices in local authorities remain in the early stages and lack clear and effective policies for addressing violations of human rights. This needs to change.

“UK local government is in a position to influence and shape the industries they buy goods from. They have the opportunity to play a key role in reforming supply chains and dramatically improving the lives of workers across the world.”

The UK local government sector spent nearly £60bn on goods and services in 2016, giving local authorities vast potential to influence supplier behaviour.

The report found that 80% of local authorities made reference to sustainability in their broader procurement strategy, but said that much of this “lacks the depth, rigour and action necessary to meaningfully impact supply chains”. It added that a fifth of local authorities were unable to show evidence of sustainability forming part of procurement practices, policies or strategies.

Authorities that did make reference to ethics in wider procurement strategies or policies showed varying levels of content and quality, the report said.

Authorities including Southampton, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Hounslow, Blackpool and Liverpool made reference to wanting to uphold International Labour Organization (ILO) standards, including freedom of association and child labour. Manchester and Edinburgh made reference to the Ethical Trading Initiative code of labour practice, which is based on the ILO standards.

Several councils refer to ambitions to uphold human rights and fair labour conditions in procurement practices.

LAs differed in what stage of the proucrement process they actioned their ethical policies. Some mention sustainability and ethics in tendering and award criteria and some within contract conditions, while others assess companies based on their ethical performance. However, the report said LAs engaging in these processes were “in a minority”.

Annie Pickering, campaigns and movement building co-ordinator at People & Planet, said: “Other UK public institutions, like universities, are taking action on sweatshops in their supply chains. Local government has the potential to do the same.”

The eight LAs with standalone ethical procurement policies were:

  • Birmingham City Council
  • Edinburgh City Council
  • Manchester City Council
  • The London Borough of Hounslow
  • Southampton City Council
  • Dumfries and Galloway Council
  • Wirral Council
  • The Greater London Authority

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