Purchasing Power: How The U.S. Government Can Use Federal Procurement To Uphold Human Rights

Purchase Power
September 2020
Workers making goods for the United States government face rights violations abroad.

The U.S. federal government purchases goods made by workers who are forced to endure serious human and labor rights violations, including excessive working hours, harsh working conditions, health and safety risks, child labor, debt bondage, and forced labor. This implicates the US in the mistreatment of these workers and makes it harder for companies that protect workers’ rights, including American companies, to compete for government contracts. The federal government must reform its procurement process in four high-risk sectors – electronics, minerals, apparel, and food – to ensure workers are protected and competition is fair.

The way forward

We make a series of recommendations for how the federal government can improve its procurement process, leveraging its significant buying power to drive rights compliance by prime and subcontractors. This is an ambitious undertaking, but the recommendations aim to minimize challenges and create a system that supports and incentivizes compliance by contractors. Through these changes, workers around the world can enjoy more comprehensive rights protection, American companies can compete on a more level playing field, and Americans can feel confident that their government is doing everything it can to make the world safer and fairer for all. 

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