Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Procurement
Exercising consumer power is the most powerful way to ensure improved CSR standards. If consumers regularly demand that products are produced and services delivered in a socially responsible way, suppliers will respond. This fact is at the heart of recent drives by the Commission and other international bodies to promote sustainable procurement in the public sector – i.e. the inclusion of environmental and/or social concerns in procurement actions.
The integration of CSR policies into other European Union (EU) policies, such as public procurement, is one which the EU is committed to. See:
- European Commission’s current Communication on CSR and sustainable development COM (2002) 347 Final
This commitment is supported by the recent European Public Procurement Directives. The Directives provide opportunities to take into account environmental and social policy goals in purchasing decisions, thereby contributing to making best value purchases that consider not only the price, but also the wider impacts and benefits of the purchasing decision. See:
- European Public Procurement Directives: Directives 2004/17/EC and Directive 2004/18/EC
Political commitment must now be translated into practical application
Given the significance of public procurement in Europe - public authorities each year spend over €2,000 billion on goods and services – the promotion of behavioural change with public consumers in the direction of achieving more socially and environmentally responsible production and consumption patterns will make a considerable contribution to EU CSR strategies.
Socially responsible procurement (SRP) can roughly be split into two categories:
- Regulatory obligations – both public and private organisations have a legal duty to enforce certain social standards in the contracts they award. However these are not always strictly applied or checked.
- Voluntary measures –social and ethical standards which go beyond legal obligations.
A number of European public authorities have already begun to introduce SRP, encouraged by the successes achieved by those implementing environmentally responsible procurement in influencing the market. However, cases of SRP in both the public and private sectors remain relatively few and isolated, with little in the way of widespread promotion of best practice.
Both public and private purchasers need to consider a number of issues when carrying out SRP:
- What issues should be addressed?
- What standards should be used?
- What can the market provide?
- How can purchasers be sure standards are actually met?
- How to comply with legal restrictions?
These concerns apply, to a different extent, to both the SRP legal obligations and voluntary measures outlined above.
Given these concerns exploring existing experiences, engaging in dialogue with a broad group of stakeholders, and developing clear guidance is critical in promoting wider and more effective implementation across Europe.