William Eichler 18 June 2018

Councils must do more to protect workers’ rights globally, union says

A public sector union has criticised local authorities for ‘not doing enough’ to protect workers’ rights globally.

The local government sector spent almost £60bn on goods and services in 2016, giving it immense purchasing power which could be used to influence the practices of corporations.

However, a new report from Unison, entitled Ethical Procurement in UK Local Authorities, found that only eight of the 190 local authorities looked at had a standalone ethical procurement policy.

Products bought by councils have complex, global supply chains controlled by companies whose low-cost, fast production business models have led to abuses of workers’ rights, according to the report.

These abuses include practices such as forced labour.

Unison acknowledged some local authorities are implementing ethical procurement strategies, but warned these ‘lack depth and do not put adequate practices in place to have any real or tangible impact on supply chains’.

‘Any abuse of human rights is unacceptable and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency,’ said Unison’s head of local government Heather Wakefield.

‘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.

‘Ethical procurement practices in local authorities remain in the early stages and lack clear and effective polices for addressing violations of human rights. This needs to change.’

Annie Pickering, the campaigns and movement building co-ordinator for People & Planet, the network of student campaign groups which produced the report for Unison, said: ‘Protecting workers' rights is not only important in the places we work, but also throughout the supply chains of the goods we buy.

‘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 Local Government Association (LGA) has been approached for comment.

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