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Yesterday, we started our review of the key points from the procurement roundtable at the recent Greenwich Symposium on Responsible Public Procurement. Today, we will look at the comments made by the panel as they looked into plans for the future.

It was chaired by Emma Nicholson of APUC (which buys for universities in Scotland) and included Samah Abbasi of Unicef; Mike Kilner from LUPC; Terry Brewer from Harrow Council; Anna Hagvall, all the way from Stockholm County Council; Jenny Barlow from the University of Leeds and Faiza Rasheed from One Housing.

Mike Kilner kicked off commenting that we need more collaboration – standard templates and other tools that multiple public bodies can use for contracts. The supply side also wants to see a joined-up approach so they are not having to do different work for every buyer. Legislation is important but it must be effective, not just something that leads to a “tick box” mentality.

Terry Brewer wanted more of a lead from Crown Commercial Service on modern slavery issues. CCS has been behind the curve on social value but has the opportunity to lead on that issue. Legislation needs to support practical implementation; the Social Value Taskforce has helped in that area – could there be something similar for modern slavery? Or perhaps build on the SV group. Putting this issue in the context of reputational risk can be a good way of engaging elected members. The public sector is getting better at early market engagement – that can help to get messages across to suppliers in terms of what we expect.

Anna Hagvall commented that transparency is a big driver for change – buyers need to ask questions about supply chains. “Buyers need to know – and need to show that they know”. When we start to ask, those questions will be a driver for change and make it easier for buyers to take informed decisions. Also, we need to enhance our own capacity, not just rely on external resources – we need to do our own due diligence. Then we just need to start doing things! No excuses – you can make progress wherever you are starting from.

Faiza Rasheed believes we should start to publicise and reward suppliers who are compliant and support initiatives – using social media perhaps. She also wants more collaboration – how can we “join the dots” between modern slavery and other policy initiatives e.g. living wage legislation? We know we must go through certain process steps in public procurement, let’s build these issues into that. Legislation gives you the right to do it, and we should also look to influence the next round of public contract regulations. Finally, procurement must get the message to policy makers and other leaders – procurement can become enablers and champions.

Jenny Barlow feels that real step change comes from working together and using combined power. The Electronics Watch model is good – strong standards, information, awareness and education. Environmental issues are better known perhaps than these social issues – we need better knowledge. She wants more collaboration on high risk areas, with involvement of NGOs etc. Also, independent monitoring is key – when it comes to global supply chains, real visibility and verification on the ground is essential. “We can ask for information but how do you guarantee responses are accurate”? We also still need more capability and education in procurement, across buyers and suppliers.

Samah Abbasi of UNICEF explained how the organisation works with businesses to help embed children’s’ rights, and also works with the UK Government to design a regulatory environment conducive to responsible business conduct. But risks are there – we rarely see explicit mention of human rights in government procurement. This is complex though with inter-related issues around slavery, inequalities etc. and we must be careful – the child might be in a worse situation if withdrawn from workplace.

For most suppliers, this is new, she said. They are not familiar with issues and this is a different way of looking at things. So, there are real challenges for public procurement, from transparency to scoring tenders and integration into contract management clauses – UNICEF is working with Welsh Assembly on their supply chain employment code of conduct. But how do you put these high-level policies into practice? And we want to avid suppliers either just doing tick box responses or indeed pulling out of the market altogether. We need buyers and suppliers to develop skills, and we can’t simply rely on auditing, we need to use a range of organisations for monitoring and verification.

So … as we hope you can see, this was a content-rich debate. There is much to consider and more to do, but the panel proposed useful ideas and identified key issues in a stimulating 90 minutes or so. No doubt we will also come back to this topic in the future.

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