GTZ sustainable procurement online-tool is not neutral (but claims to be)

Recently the GTZ and the BMZ launched the internet-portal “Kompass Nachhaltigkeit”. This online-tool shall support public and private procurers to make their procurement and their supply chains more sustainable. The focus is on Germany.

From a quick look, I think the portal is a good collection of information and it provides a good introduction into many relevant issues of sustainable procurement (see also other platforms: Switzerland, Austria). It provides users with up-to-date documents and news by public and private actors, and it shows what processes need to be addressed.

However, the portal argues that the “compass sustainability” does not aim at evaluating the standards, but that the users shall create their own position on the standards. I argue that – despite the noble intention of putting together detailed information on standards – users of the tool may easily end up with choices they did not want to take – and I believe that the claim of neutrality is misleading. I claim that the information is put together in such a way that decisions are not based sufficiently on facts.

I want to present my argument by playing a public procurer of some city in Germany, who needs to buy police uniforms, but does not know much about standards. He only knows that his procurement must guarantee that products were produced under ILO core labour norms: Out of 20 different product categories, I select “apparel”. The database lists 11 standards: BSCI, Demeter (?), Fair for Life, FWF, Fairtrade, GOTS, Naturland, IVN Best, Öko-Tex 100, 100plus, 1000 (information is still missing). This looks like comparing apples and oranges. Why is there no quick overview that provides me with the most important information regarding all 11 standards and which tells me which standard actually is relevant for ILO core norms. So I have to click through all 11 standards and try to understand the differences between the standards. Maybe I print out the (5 pages) information for each standard and plaster 11×5 pages on my wall in order to find out, which standard or combination of standards I need.

I click on the BSCI, and the tool presents a list of 5 different issues and is sub-divided into 15 issues. This is surely some level of detail. But what does the information tell me? The BSCI is a private standard organisation (non-profit), which was founded by the FTA in 2003 – no word about the fact that NGOs, trade unions, scientists and the UN all recommend multi-stakeholder initiatives instead of business initiatives. The BSCI is said to cover all levels of production – so I do not need a fairtrade standard?!. The social issues do not tell me anything about living wages (which I do not need as a public procurerm but maybe as a private supply chain manager), and I am informed that the standards cohere with international norms. Regarding the control system, every single sub-category listed is marked with green ticks, which suggests that the audit system is perfect … (sic!). There is no word of the critique by NGOs, trade unions or scientists that social auditing usually does not manage to identify more subtle issues. There is no word that BSCI only requires workers to be interviewed inside the factories, which makes it almost impossible to identify the truth about the working conditions in the factory. Finally, stakeholder participation is also ticked in green, which suggests that stakeholders are perfectly integrated. This information is worth nothing, if we do not know which stakeholders participate in what way. But as it is green, I intend to trust that stakeholder participation is ok.

In summary, the platform is surely an interesting information tool. But it seems to lack (1) details in some aspects, (2) overviews and (3) evaluation. I wonder, why the platform says that it does not want to evaluate systems, when it portrays standards in a way that can only lead to wrong conclusions.

Please work on this, please do not mislead the users and claim to be neutral.

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