Supply Side
Switzerland to host first public procurement and human rights workshop next month

An international workshop on public procurement in the context of human rights will take place in Switzerland next month. The workshop, titled ‘The Learning Lab on Public Procurement and Human Rights’, will be launched at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on November 19. The Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) are co-hosting the event, along with several academic institutions.

According to a post on the ICAR website, the Learning Lab aims to facilitate the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in relation to public procurement. It will do this by looking at how specific countries approach procurement law and practices, develop good practices and bring together decision-makers to share innovations. The Lab will take an active role in helping to implement UNGPs by developing online tools and guidance and sharing useful information in international networks.

Dr Claire O’Brien of the DIHR said on the Public Procurement Podcast in August that the time has come for public procurement laws to be scrutinised to a greater extent, and to be aligned with the requirements of human rights norms. She says that while the EU has made efforts to abide by the UN Guiding Principles, the test would be whether these policy commitments are internalised at a national or regional level. In the podcast, Dr O’Brien mentioned a few encouraging examples of collaboration between public procurement authorities and bodies with human rights expertise, and said she hoped the Learning Lab would help to build on this. She will present the key findings of her research to the workshop next month.

Dr O’Brien also cited an ICAR report released last year: Turning a Blind Eye? Respecting Human Rights in Government Purchasing. The report examined US federal procurement in sectors such as agriculture, electronics, mineral extraction and security services. It found the US government’s global supply chains to be linked to a range of human rights violations including child labour, human trafficking, harsh working conditions, health and safety risks and torture.

The goals of the report were to strengthen implementation of existing procurement standards (such as the UNGPs) to protect human rights, and to require suppliers to respect human rights through the same due diligence steps that are becoming common in the private sector. In many ways, the Learning Lab workshop will build on the aims of the report by providing an international dialogue about human rights issues in public procurement. ICAR says the objectives for the first workshop will be to launch the Learning Lab’s mapping report of procurement and human rights in key jurisdictions and to gather input on the purpose and scope of the lab for the next few years. The workshop will feature discussions with public authorities and stakeholders on the topic, as well as presentations on good practice.

Other recent activities in this area have included work by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS), which has taken in active role in promoting the need for procurement people in public and private sectors to be aware of issues such as slavery in supply chains. Procurement professionals certainly need to be aware of the Modern Slavery Act, which passed into law this year in the UK.

Back to the workshop ; anyone interested in attending can RSVP via a link on this page of the ICAR website.