Loading content

Public procurement measures to address modern slavery

Policy briefing analysing the evidence base on the effectiveness of public procurement measures in addressing modern slavery.

Published: 4th November 2022

This Policy Brief assesses the evidence base on the effectiveness of relevant public procurement laws, policies and practices at addressing modern slavery. It is the third in a series of Policy Briefs that assess the evidence base on the effectiveness of different regulatory interventions to address modern slavery in global supply chains. The Brief is underpinned by a separate evidence review carried out by Dr Sofia Gonzalez de Aguinaga, from the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law.

There is ongoing interest from policymakers, businesses and civil society in the potential for public procurement – the process by which the public sector purchases goods, services and works from the private sector – to be used as a lever to address modern slavery in supply chains. Action on public procurement was recognised as one of four ‘principles for tackling modern slavery in supply chains’, launched in 2018 by the ‘Five Eyes’ group (UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

This Policy Brief focuses on public procurement measures in countries similar to the UK where governments have made a stated commitment to addressing forced labour in supply chains. These include: the Five Eyes group, the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, US) who issued a joint statement on this subject in October 2021, and relevant European and Scandinavian countries where there is emerging good practice.

Key findings

1. There is evidence of countries introducing a range of provisions into their public procurement laws and policies to address modern slavery, as well as producing guidelines, training, toolkits and resources. The most common legal and policy measures are exclusion criteria, selection criteria, award criteria, contract performance clauses and termination of contracts. Common wider practices include due diligence (risk identification and assessment) and collaboration. However, there is limited research into how these measures are being implemented in practice. Most countries focus these measures on high-risk sectors and on prevention of modern slavery rather than remediation. From the countries reviewed, all Five Eyes countries have implemented measures, whilst many G7 countries have not.

2. There is limited evidence that has directly explored the effectiveness of specific public procurement measures at addressing modern slavery risk, though there are some case studies demonstrating public procurement measures have positively influenced supplier behaviour and contributed to reduced modern slavery risk. Several factors are likely to influence effectiveness: legal certainty, resources and capabilities, and collaboration influence how well public sector bodies implement the measures; contract management and market knowledge influence effectiveness of the measures at changing supplier behaviour; and national regulatory and sectoral systems, legislative design, and monitoring practices influence the effectiveness of the measures at addressing modern slavery. The effectiveness of modern slavery provisions can be increased if applied across different stages of the procurement cycle.

3. There is limited evidence on the interactions between public procurement measures and other instruments that seek to address modern slavery in global supply chains, partly because many of these other instruments are relatively new. In some cases, non-compliance with a related instrument may exclude companies from bidding for public contracts. Public procurement measures that require companies to undertake or to demonstrate types of due diligence are likely to complement related measures that have similar overall objectives.

4. There is very limited evidence of any wider consequences of using public procurement as a lever to address modern slavery in supply chains. Possible unintended consequences include unequal or unfair impacts on SMEs and developing countries.

Authors: Dr Sofia Gonzalez de Aguinaga, Owain Johnstone, Olivia Hesketh.