Advancing Respect for Labour Rights Globally through Public Procurement

Olga Martin-Ortega, Claire Methven O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
176 Downloads (Pure)


Governments are mega-consumers of many manufactured products and services. As such they should in principle be able to influence workers’ rights abroad via the terms of purchase contracts. Yet to date little attention has been paid to the potential of public procurement to promote respect for labour rights globally besides the international trade law framework. Building on a limited emerging scholarship and policy developments, this article addresses this gap. Section 2 considers legal definitions of public procurement and distinguishes primary and secondary aims of procurement under key international and regional procurement regimes. This highlights that, although historically used to advance labour rights domestically, these regimes have restricted public buyers’ scope to advance labour rights beyond national borders. Section 3 explores new international policy frameworks on responsible global value chains and supply chains which by contrast appear to augur the greater use of public procurement to promote labour rights globally in future. Section 4 argues, supported by analysis of the limited examples available, that public buying has the potential to positively influence enjoyment of labour rights in practice. Concluding, Section 5 reflects on what the more specific impacts of public procurement in this context may be, and how public buying should complement other mechanisms for improving labour conditions across supply chains, such as social clauses in trade agreements. Finally, we outline issues for further research and the future policy agenda.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-79
JournalPolitics and Governance
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2017


  • European Union
  • procurement
  • social clauses
  • trade agreements
  • Human rights
  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • business and human rights


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