Discretion, Divergence, Paradox: Public and Private Supply Chain Standards on Human Rights

Claire Methven O'Brien, Olga Martin-Ortega

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


Expectations on businesses to manage supply chain human rights risks are becoming increasingly more detailed, demanding and widespread. In response to new legislation and official guidance, corporations have established human rights policies and detailed performance standards for their suppliers that take legal form via incorporation into purchase contracts. In contrast, public buyers’ supply chain responsibilities for human rights have so far scarcely been addressed, notwithstanding increasing concerns about the human rights impacts of public purchasing. Following the introduction, which demonstrates the paradoxical character of this divergence, this chapter reviews relevant developments in law, policy and practice and considers their future implications. Section 2 analyses the framework of norms applicable to purchasing by public and private actors linked to human rights abuses as understood from the perspective of international human rights law. Section 3 illustrates how, in contrast, public buyers’ discretion to promote the achievement of social objectives has conventionally been construed from the standpoint of EU public procurement law, namely as an exceptional derogation from the logic of competition. Section 4 surveys new supply chain standards, demonstrating a growing discrepancy between conduct expected of corporations and public buyers as regards human rights due diligence. Section 5 concludes.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherSocial Science Research Network
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2019

Publication series

NameUniversity of Groningen Faculty of Law Research Papers
PublisherUniversity of Groningen


  • public procurement
  • human rights
  • responsible business conduct
  • supply chain
  • value chain
  • due diligence


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