Supply Side
Electronics Watch – Public Procurement Gets Involved in Human Rights Issues

Corporate Social Responsibility has become a huge issue for businesses and the procurement profession over the past 20 years or so, as consumers have become much more aware of and interested in how the products they buy are made and the hidden costs of these products. Human rights issues in the supply chain form one key element of this picture, with CIPS for instance taking a stand on modern slavery, and working conditions in many countries hitting the headlines, often after disasters such as the Rana Plaza factory collapse.

Now a new organisation, Electronics Watch, is looking to address some of these issues in one key industry, with a particular focus on how contracting authorities and buyers in the public sector can contribute to good practice through their considerable buying power in the electronics industries. We asked them to tell us a little about what they’re doing, and a key event next month in Greenwich, London. This is what they said.

“The electronics industry is key in today´s economy and one of the fastest growing global industries. The working conditions on the supply chain of the industry, however, are far from respectful to the human rights of those involved and numerous abuses have been reported in the past years.

As large consumers of electronic products, public authorities have a responsibility towards those working in the supply chain of the products they purchase. Recent international and European developments in law and practice have allowed a wider scope for public buyers to introduce demands of socially responsible corporate behaviour in the supply chain of their main suppliers.

However, understanding how the supply chain can be monitored and acting on the findings of monitoring to promote redress and reform is still an important challenge to make public procurement an effective tool for the protection of human rights. It was in this context, Electronics Watch was launched as a monitoring organisation bringing together public sector buyers and civil society monitors from the regions of electronics production.

Next month a group of leaders and decision-makers in UK public procurement will be meeting and debating with a group of international human rights experts at a symposium at London’s historic Old Royal Naval College, co-hosted by the Business, Human Rights and the Environment (BHRE) Research Group at the University of Greenwich and the London Universities Purchasing Consortium.

The symposium will present the opportunities that now exist for public buyers to realise their obligations with respect to the protection and promotion of human rights and adequate working conditions in the supply chain of the electronics products they purchase.

The BHRE undertakes research on the impact of commercial activities and business working methods on the enjoyment of human rights and the environment. Major research themes of the BHRE include socially responsible and sustainable supply chains and responsible public procurement. It’s led by Dr Olga Martin-Ortega, Reader in Public International Law who has researched business and human rights for over ten years and Dr Opi Outhwaite, Senior Lecturer in Law, whose research focuses on governance and natural resources including accountability of multinational corporations and public and private governance for health, agriculture and the environment.

The aim of the event is twofold: firstly to analyse in detail the Electronics Watch procurement model, the monitoring mechanisms and the reform process available under its framework; and secondly to provide a forum for in-depth discussion of current supply chain monitoring practices and the challenges to make them an effective tool for workers and the ultimate goal of improving their working conditions. Through the examination of the Electronics Watch model procurement practitioners, human rights and labour rights experts and advocates will aim to advance on the discussions of the suitability of current supply chain monitoring processes and options for reform”.

So this should be an interesting and important event. Spend Matters will be there to report on it; numbers are limited by the venue so it is by invitation only. But if you have a burning desire to participate, do drop us an email (psmith@spendmatters.com) and we can ask the organisers if they can squeeze you in!