Promoting better working conditions in global supply chains through public procurement


How can public procurement initiatives be designed effectively to promote and secure better working conditions in transnational supply chains?


Project background and aims

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the potential and actual use of public procurement as a means of promoting respect for labour rights. At the transnational level, there is growing interest in leveraging the purchasing power of the state to augment existing public and private efforts to address labour and human rights violations in global production networks. Scholarly and activist attention to date, however, has focused largely on the desirability or legality of such measures. Some efforts have also been made to map existing initiatives globally. This project focuses on questions of regulatory design - and more specifically of compliance and enforcement – which we suggest remain under-examined in either the domestic or international context.

This project explores questions such as: How can public procurement initiatives be designed in a way that take into account the complexity and fragmented nature of transnational production? How are procuring authorities, without expert knowledge or expertise of labour rights issues, to monitor any labour-related obligations imposed upon suppliers in public contracts? How can and should public procurement authorities respond to cases of supplier non-compliance with any such contractual obligations?


Drawing on insights from transnational labour governance and the normative model of responsive regulation, this project seeks to theoretically and empirically evaluate selected responsible procurement initiatives from a number of different jurisdictions around the world, with a view to better understanding the potential of such programmes to bring about effective and positive changes in working conditions.


Preliminary findings from this research have been presented at the following academic and practitioner workshops:

  • Workshop on Public Procurement and Modern Slavery, Worskhop organised by Plus Alliance Partners, King’s College London and the University of NSW, in collaboration with the Business, Human Rights and the Environment Research Group at the University of Greenwich, London, UK,29 November 2019.
  • 4th Labour Law Research Network (LLRN) Conference, Valparaíso, Chile, 25 June 2019.
  • Innovate Rights: New Thinking in Business and Human Rights Academic Consultation, Australian Human Rights Institute, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 14 May 2019.
  • Socially Responsible Public Procurement: An Exploration of the Role of the State in Labour Governance in Global Production Networks, Workshop at Queen Mary University of London, London, UK, 16 November 2018.