Public procurement

Swedish municipalities, county councils and government authorities procure goods worth more than 63 billion euros annually. A large portion are manufactured or grown in countries where there is a high risk of negative impacts on human rights and the environment.

Items that are procured include a wide range of products – from furniture and food used in public environments to construction materials and stone used for major infrastructure projects. Low wages, forced or child labour and excessive overtime are problems in the manufacture of a number of product groups. Many suppliers to the public sector are wholesalers and with long and complex supply chains and thousands of products in their range. This can make it difficult to identify how a product has been produced and by whom.

Imposing social criteria on suppliers allows procuring authorities to contribute towards improved working conditions and greater respect for human rights throughout the supply chain. Public procurement is included in UN’s sustainability goals (12.7) and highlighted as a tool in the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Swedish government’s procurement strategy also emphasises the importance of social considerations in global supplier chains.

Despite this, many procuring authorities do not impose social criteria, often due to a lack of knowledge about the risks of human rights abuses in supply chains. Also, where criteria is imposed, monitoring often falls short due to a lack of resources. Pricing pressure from public sector buyers can also be a problem, giving suppliers minimal or no leeway in their budgets for procedures and measures to improve working conditions. However, there are positive examples of authorities working systematically with social criteria, for example nationwide collaboration between county councils in Sweden.