Seeking an insight into socially responsible government procurement

The Netherlands Court of Audit has audited the Dutch government’s socially responsible procurement. We asked what part of the government’s overall procurement was socially responsible. Social responsibility means price is not the only factor in a procurement decision: the environment, opportunities for people with poor job prospects (social return) and measures taken to prevent forced labour, slavery, child labour and discrimination are also taken into consideration. In 2016, the government procured goods and services worth a total of €9.9 billion. As a major player, it can be an important catalyst for socially responsible procurement. The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) has been issuing annual reports on the government’s operational management since 2011. Between 2011 and 2016, they have provided more and better information on the criteria the government uses to take account of the environment, social return and international social conditions. Our audit report also considers how the government reports on its socially responsible procurement and what we found. 

Do the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations’ reports provide sufficient insight into socially responsible government procurement?

The Ministry of BZK’s reports have included more and better information on how the government takes account of people and planet in its procurement of goods and services, but there is still some uncertainty about how much government procurement is socially responsible. It cannot be concluded from the latest reports what part of the total expenditure in 2016 satisfied the government’s social responsibility criteria.

Decisions could be better explained

The government focuses its socially responsible procurement on categories of goods and services that have the greatest environmental and social impact. This decision and its consequences are not explained clearly  in the Annual Report on Government Operational Management.

What methods and standards did we apply to audit socially responsible procurement?

We adopted the following standards to carry out and report on our audit of socially responsible procurement:

  • The government’s definition of what constitutes socially responsible procurement must be transparent.
  • The government must be able to determine from its procurement records what part of its procurement meets its social responsibility criteria.
  • The government’s reports on socially responsible procurement must be transparent and explain what part of the procurement is socially responsible, and what part is not and why not.

What information did we use to audit socially responsible procurement?

To carry out this audit we analysed the spreadsheet on which the Ministry of BZK records the replies to the questionnaire it sends to all ministries asking them about the extent of their socially responsible procurement. We also used information presented in the Annual Report on Government Operational Management and in other reports and policy documents, and information gained from supplementary interviews with staff involved in government procurement and the compilation of procurement data.

Current status

The Minister of BZK responded to our report on 22 June 2017. The audit was published on 29 June 2017.