A new report from the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights examines the U.S. federal government’s procurement practices and highlights the existence of severe human and labor rights violations in the supply chains of government contractors. The report, “Purchasing Power: How the U.S. Government Can Use Federal Procurement to Uphold Human Rights,” explores this problem and recommends tangible steps policymakers can take to improve human and labor rights compliance by government contractors.
Every year, the U.S. government procures over $500 billion in goods and services. These contracts are fulfilled by a wide array of prime and subcontractors operating in global supply chains the federal government does not have the capacity to monitor comprehensively. Without sufficient oversight, U.S. government spending has become entangled with human and labor rights violations. This implicates the U.S. in the mistreatment of workers, disadvantages contractors who do the right thing, and weakens U.S. efforts to alleviate poverty and support development around the world.
The report’s primary findings are:
1. The United States’ federal procurement relies on global supply chains that are often rife with serious human and labor rights violations.
2. At present, the U.S. government does not dedicate the resources required to independently monitor these supply chains and to address governance gaps in producing countries.
3. The U.S. is implicated in the mistreatment of workers around the world, including some who are suffering from physical abuse and modern forms of slavery. These practices are contrary to core American values but are being funded by U.S. taxpayers.
In response to these findings, the report recommends increasing expectations of contractors; empowering accredited external monitoring entities to audit and report on prime and subcontractor practices; and establishing a schedule of increasing penalties for contractors who repeatedly fail to remedy violations. These recommendations are ambitious, requiring substantial effort on the part of contractors, monitors, and policymakers, so the report recommends phasing in improvements and requirements over several years. Overall, it advocates a system designed to incentivize, enable, and support contractors to bring their facilities and supply chains in line with minimum human and labor rights standards.