Public Procurement and Human Rights: A Survey of Twenty Jurisdictions

Claire Methven O'Brien, Nicole Vander Meulen, Amol Mehra, Olga Martin-Ortega (Contributing member), Robert Stumberg (Contributing member), Marta Andrecka (Contributing member)

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Public procurement is the purchase by the public sector of the goods and services it needs to carry out its functions. Such purchasing represents a significant share of the total economy: globally, public procurement has a value of €1000 billion per year, while across OECD countries it accounts for 12% of GDP, on average. Public procurement thus represents an enormous opportunity for governments to drive the transition to sustainable production and consumption. Yet, like other consumers, governments currently procure goods and services via supply chains in which serious human rights abuses are widespread, and in recent years the implication of public buyers in such abuses has been frequently documented.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) affirm the duty of States to protect against human rights abuses by businesses; the responsibility of businesses, in turn, to respect human rights, including through the performance of human rights due diligence; and the right of victims to a remedy for any business-related human rights abuses. Unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, the UNGPs have subsequently won support from the European Union, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the International Standards Organisation, as well as numerous businesses, civil society organisations, and government actors. Under the UNGPs the “State duty to protect” extends to situations where a commercial “nexus” exists between public actors and businesses, such as when government bodies purchase goods and services through public procurement, and in connection with “contracting-out” and privatisation.

Although the UNGPs thus highlight the need for States to take active steps to avoid involvement in human rights abuses through their purchasing practices, based on a survey of twenty jurisdictions, this study’s findings suggest that at this time central governments and other public bodies are not fulfilling this duty.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherInternational Learning Lab on Public Procurement and Human Rights
Number of pages101
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016


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