Who made our uniforms? U.K. Public Sector Apparel Procurement: Ensuring Transparency and Respect for Human Rights

Friday, 28th September, 2018

A new report published by CORE and ICAR reveals that that a third of companies that have supplied uniforms for UK public sector workers, including the armed forces and prison officers, have not reported on what they are doing to tackle slavery in their supply chains.

Our report ‘Who Made Our Uniforms?’ reveals that few contractors supplying uniforms and specialist safety clothing to the UK public sector are transparent about their ethical standards and international suppliers.

Three years ago, Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015, requiring companies to report on what they are doing to address slavery in their supply chains. But only 10 of the 30 companies analysed in the report have published a slavery and human trafficking statement, despite the apparel manufacturing sector being notorious for labour and human rights abuses.

We also explored whether companies awarded large contracts between 2013-2016 by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Crown Commercial Services (the central government purchasing unit), and Transport for London (TfL) reveal where their goods are made. Twelve companies provide general information, but none have followed the example of consumer brands like H&M, Primark, and ASOS and published factory names and addresses.

TfL is the only one of the four authorities to have published its own modern slavery statement. In 2016, TfL announced a five-year partnership deal with The Fairtrade Foundation to ethically source cotton for staff uniforms. The following year, the Mayor of London published a Responsible Procurement Policy for the Greater London Authority, covering TfL.

Yet despite the UK government’s commitment to tackling modern slavery, neither the MoD nor the MoJ make any reference to responsible procurement on their websites.

Our recommendations to Government include:

  • Require all central Government departments and public bodies with a turnover of more than £36 million to publish an annual slavery human statement to improve transparency about their supply chains, risks of labour rights abuses, and the steps they are taking to ensure adherence to international labour rights standards.
  • Consider introducing a requirement for all entities bidding for public contracts over a certain value to publish a Slavery and Human Trafficking statement, irrespective of turnover.
  • Amend § 54 of the Modern Slavery Act to remove the option for entities to report that they have taken no steps to address slavery and human trafficking.
  • Revise “The Public Contracts Regulations 2015: Guidance On Social and Environmental Aspects” in consultation with civil society organisations, academics with expertise in socially responsible procurement, and procurement professionals.
  • Implement the recommendations of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Right’s report on opportunities for SMEs in the implementation of the UNGPs.
  • Create an online database with information about the human rights practices of suppliers.
  • Invest in human rights training for public buyers.
  • Engage with industry bodies such as the Federation of Small Business to establish ways to meet the challenges of respecting human rights faced by SMEs.

Read the full report here.