Fair Procurement


What is public procurement and why is it important?

Public procurement is the process by which local authorities and other public sector bodies in the UK purchase goods and services.  In the UK there are billions of pounds (£) spent every year through such procurement. As this is public money we should have a say on how it could be spent in a more sustainable way.  With hundreds of public bodies in England alone having publically expressed their support for Fairtrade, there is an opportunity for us to work together to ensure more Fairtrade products are procured.


What Fairtrade products can local authorities buy?

Plenty! Look at the basic food categories such as catering products like coffee, tea and sugar. How about if there is a canteen on site – that might mean other products like bananas. The biggest opportunity though may be with cotton work wear which is something frequently bought by various departments for their staff.  This is a terrific opportunity and a huge area for development.

Public Procurement for Fairtrade Towns Guide
– produced by the Fairtrade Foundation with input from campaigners


OK, I want to get involved. What can I do?

As a campaigner, you can lobby and support your local authority or public body to publically commit and procure Fairtrade products.   Many times there is a will but commissioners or local authority staff do not know the way and this is where as a campaigner you can help.  The important thing is to see this as a partnership and something you can support the local authority to work towards.

The best way to engage with your local authority is to do so in partnership. Use the connections you have developed as a Fairtrade Town to begin to ask questions and find out who to speak with.  If need be or to help the process along, you can submit a Freedom of Information Request but be mindful that the person filling this out may be the person you could have had a conversation with so use this wisely.

An example set of Freedom of Information Act questions below:

“For a given time period of _____ : (an example could be 2012 + 2013)

  • How much did this local authority / public body spend on work wear in 2012 and 2013?
  • Can this amount be broken down by department?
  • With whom (what company or companies) did they spend it with, how much by company and what products?
  • How much was spent by this local authority / public body in the time period on Fairtrade products? If possible please answer with a breakdown by product.”

The purpose here is to create a baseline of information so you know how best to make your next step:

  • Which department spends the money on work wear (for example housing, transport, etc)
  • What do they spend it on (products like t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc)
  • Who they spend it with (which companies)

With this information you can decide who to lobby. For example, the housing department spends £25,000 a year of which £3,500 was on cotton products.   Instead of trying to lobby every department you can now focus on 1 individual. Start small with something achievable but aim big.


I work for a public body. What advice do you have to help us buy Fairtrade?

Cotton on to Fairtrade: A guide for public sector procurement staff has been produced by the Fairtrade Foundation with input from campaigners and commissioners to help you through the process of buying Fairtrade cotton work wear.

It is a step-by-step guide for commissioners and local authority staff which will walk you through EU Regulations, case studies, engagement with suppliers, pre-qualification questionnaires, technical specification, evaluation of bids and award.

Cotton on to Fairtrade: A guide for public sector procurement staff


Find out more

For questions, comments or to submit a case study please email Patrick Reyburn, the London representative to the National Campaigner Committee at [email protected].

Local Authorities and Public Procurement pages on the Fairtrade Foundation website

European Observatory on Fair Trade Public Procurement – collecting and analysing examples of the introduction of fair trade criteria in public purchases across Europe minergaterbuy essays