IEH - Ethical Trading Initiative Norway

Conference on opportunities in ethical trading

The opportunities are there, the public sector must seize them. This was the outcome of the conference "Ethical criteria in public procurement: Challenges, opportunities, and the way forward" under the auspices of IEH - Ethical Trading Initiativ Norway at the Oslo Literaturhuset in December 2011.

- It is clear that there is a wider scope than what many think, especially related to the qualification phase in public procurement, says Magne Paulsrud, a senior adviser in IEH. He led the conference, which was organized in collaboration with Difi, Helse Sør-Øst, and Grønne Innkjøp Telemark.

-  Several speakers emphasized the opportunities that the public sector has in relation to instructing themselves and their related agencies. In May 2010, for instance, the Defense Ministry decided itself to set ethical standards.

- If the Defense Ministry can do that, others can equally to do so, says Paulsrud, and get supported.

The conference, which was fully booked, underscored what many considered to be the most important and compelling issues relating to ethical standards in public procurement; namely the legal scope and monitoring requirements. Former Secretary of state Kirsti Bergstø of the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion (BLD) presented the keynote speech.

Market strength

- The public sector in Norway purchases goods and services worth approximately 400 billion every year. With such sums, follows substantial market power. But also a great responsibility, said Kirsti Bergstø in her lecture.

- But it's also about something much more concrete: namely the quality of public procurement. We must dare to ask ourselves the unpleasant issues: do we aid and albeit child labor? Do we buy goods from factories where the workers are being mistreated? I think everyone agrees that no public agencies should purchase products that are made at the expense of human life and health. Yet it happens - and it affects us all, continued Bergstø.

She pointed out that several government agencies in recent years have found that their reputation and legitimacy are influenced by how they handle social issues.

- People react when it is revealed that the cobblestones to the municipality’s square are made of young children. And people react when it is revealed that the uniforms to the local hospital are made of little girls under slave-like conditions. It tells me that people expect that community assets are managed in a responsible manner. And people expect that requirements for the goods we buy. It's about taking responsibility and it's about quality of procurement work.

Bergstø also stressed the opportunities and the support that belies IEH and Difi that public agencies can use.

Next step: Qualification Requirements

The country's four health authorities, led by Helse Sør-Øst, are those who have made the most progress in their work. Grete Solli from Helse Sør-Øst admits that it is not hard to be a driving force in an area where little has been done.

- We must reward the good suppliers. They are those we want contracts with, they will walk this road together with us.

Grete Solli also said that the health authorities will over the New Year test out the eligibility requirements, the giant leaps that will surely be noticed in and outside of Norway.

- This conference has shown that it is necessary to set requirements and also to follow up them up, and that this really matters. It also shows that the possibility of applying ethical standards in other phases of the procurement process exists. We have also seen that the need for cooperation and coordination is huge. IEH and our network want to play a role in this, and we have much to contribute, concluded Magne Paulsrud in IEH.