Procurement Legislation: Human Rights

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 8th June 2021.

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Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance 2:30 pm, 8th June 2021

T1. Mr Carroll asked the Minister of Finance for an update on plans to review, change or amend procurement legislation to include human rights clauses. (AQT 1401/17-22)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

We are looking at a range of measures. As the Member will probably know from listening to me previously in the Chamber, we reconstituted the Procurement Board and brought on practitioners, including people from the social enterprise sector. We have been engaging with the community and voluntary sector. There is a sector in my Department that looks at ethical procurement from which we will seek advice. One of the early objectives that we have set ourselves — the Procurement Board will meet tomorrow to consider a paper on this — is around social value, which is about not just job creation but environmental impact, ethical procurement and human rights in the supply chain. The further you get from where we are, the more difficult some of those things are to measure, with companies that supply companies that supply companies before they eventually end up with us. Nonetheless, there is an attempt to improve what we do in terms of not just value for money, which is important, but our responsibility, as an organisation that spends £3 billion a year, to make sure that we procure in a way that supports human rights, ethical procurement and environmental and social value objectives.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer. Does he agree that it is immoral for the Executive and Departments to take contracts or services from states with terrible human rights records and breaches? Will he work to end that practice by changing legislation? Is that area included in the social value method that he talked about?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

We will look to legislation to underpin social value. We are trying to get procurement policy right in the first instance. Part of the change that we made with the Procurement Board was to make the adoption of policy an Executive adoption, which gives it an imprimatur across all Departments. My Department's objective is to advise other Departments on ethical procurement. As I said, the further down the supply chain you get across the world, the more difficult it sometimes is to get accurate information, but that should not stop us trying. Where we have a sense that either companies or countries are involved in anti-human rights or unethical behaviour, we should consider very strongly our willingness to spend money on their products.