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Salt harvesting in Vietnam

Workers involved in fragmented production chains are increasingly exposed to exploitation, modern slavery and human rights violations. However, European Union (EU) public procurement legislation can raise awareness to this reality – a new study reveals.

When supplying goods and services, global enterprises tap into complex networks to source the cheapest components and workforce across national borders in order to maximise profits – making it difficult to use existing international laws to protect workers.

But the development of EU public procurement regulation has emerged as a useful tool to change the behaviour of firms, suppliers and contractors linked by Global Supply Chains (GSC) across different countries with varying legislation.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham and Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich (LMU) have published their findings in Europe and the World: A law review.

Dr Maria Anna Corvaglia, from Birmingham Law School, commented: ”Global demand for cheap labour exposes workers to increasing risk of dangerous working conditions, overlong hours and excessively low wages.

”Human rights violations and modern slavery are now a real concern in the complex management of public supply chains, as fragmented production across different countries has made effective enforcement increasingly challenging.

”However, public procurement decisions are not only attempting to ensure that the winning bidder follows socially responsible practices, but also to influence suppliers and subcontractors involved in the production of the final goods and services.”

Research by Dr Corvaglia and Kevin Li, of LMU, highlights the 2014 reforms of EU Procurement Directives as a key element in procurement regulation which is helping to improve working conditions and address violations of human rights abroad.

They point out that certification and labelling are important elements of new regulation practices making it possible to monitor and protect human rights and labour standards outside the jurisdiction of the procuring country.

Members of the supply chain are encouraged to flag up their enhanced performance in order to persuade public bodies to choose their products or services, because they meet social and ethical requirements.

”The EU Procurement Directives open many opportunities for achieving social and labour policies in public procurement,” said Dr Corvaglia. ”The government agency considers the human rights and labour conditions of supplying companies located abroad when making its decision – directly influencing the behaviour of companies within the supply chain.”

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • ‘Extraterritoriality and public procurement regulation in the context of global supply chains’ governance’ can be downloaded at - please feel free to include a link to the paper in any online article.
  • This work builds upon the previous work already published in Maria Anna Corvaglia, ‘Public Procurement and Private Standards: Ensuring Sustainability Under the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement’ (2016) 19 Journal International Economic Law and in Maria Anna Corvaglia, Public Procurement and Labour Rights: Towards Coherence in International Instruments of Procurement Regulation (Hart Publications, 2017).