The European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday that public bodes can take into account social and environmental concerns when deciding on who gets public procurement contracts. Cost is definitely not the only issue, as successive British Governments have claimed – most recently in the Bombardier case. Ignoring the social and environmental impacts of public procurement - issues like paying fair wages, providing training, and local sourcing of products - is therefore a political choice, not a requirement of European directives.
The Court was ruling on a Dutch case where the Province of North Holland had required coffee machines – of all things! - to have certain environmental labelling. And whilst the Court ruled against the Province on the details of the case (beccause it had just required certain eco-labelling rather than including the underlying environmental standards to be met in tenders), the judgment defines what the public sector is required to do to so that social and environmental objectives can be included in the procurement process.
The EU procurement directives are currently under review, and unions are arguing for clearer language on these issues, so the Court judgment will be very helpful in setting down how that language could be drafted. But the Court’s judgment is also immediately applicable to all public procurement in the UK, and the Government should make it clear to all that social and environmental standards can and should be included in all future contracts.
The Fair Trade Advocacy Office, an NGO with which trade unions in Europe work closely, welcomed the judgment. Its Executive Director, Sergi Corbalán, said “we welcome the confirmation by the European Court that Fair Trade criteria can be supported through public procurement under the current EU rules.”