Q: What’s the difference between DFID and Waitrose?
A: One of them has a policy commitment to purchase goods that haven’t been made by child labour or by workers whose rights are abused. The other is the UK’s Department for International Development… boom boom.
DFID has just published its new Statement of Priorities and Expectations for suppliers, which bizarrely fails to include respect for labour standards in it. So the department tasked with alleviating global poverty could be buying goods made by workers earning poverty wages, or worse yet, forced to work for nothing.
To be fair, the policy does require suppliers to have a commitment to “Corporate Social Responsibility”, but that is a notoriously vague concept, and suppliers will be encouraged to give notoriously vague answers when bidding for DFID business.
What is bizarre is that the private sector doesn’t see the need to be that vague. Nearly every high street retailer and supermarket now require their suppliers to respect human rights so it wouldn’t be a huge leap for DFID to require this. Sure, sure, these companies have barely made a dint in improving respect for labour standards – take the recent horrible factory fires in Bangladesh as an example – but they are doing more than DFID on ethical sourcing.
So are other parts of the public sector such as the NHS, Transport for London, and yes, last year’s Olympics. Yet DFID is supposed to be the lead on promoting responsible business in the developing world. After all, it did help form, and currently supports the Ethical Trading Initiative – a group of businesses, unions and NGOs working to improve respect for workers’ rights in global supply chains. So why not just stick the ETI Base Code of labour standards into its supplier policy?