Under Secretary Kennedy Remarks at Government Procurement and Human Rights Workshop

George C. Marshall Center, U.S. Department of State - Washington, D.C.


Thank you, Uzra, for your introduction, and thanks to all of you for being here today. The topic of government procurement and human rights is an important one, evidenced by the fact that we have over 100 attendees here today from major companies, civil society and labor organizations, academic institutions, and a range of U.S. government agencies. One of the opportunities provided by this workshop is to help educate different audiences about the realities of each other’s priorities, opportunities, and limitations. Many of you come with a deep knowledge and expertise in procurement, human rights or labor rights, or perhaps all three, and we welcome your active participation.

In the few minutes I have here at the podium, I’d like to touch on three topics: First, human rights in our foreign policy; second, a recent example of procurement and human rights with which I’ve personally been involved; and third, collaborative ways forward.

Today is the fourth event we’ve hosted in the State Department’s workshop series on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. As many of you know, the Guiding Principles were endorsed at the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. They established a common framework for dialog among different stakeholders. The United States firmly supports the Guiding Principles and has worked to encourage their dissemination and use in a variety of forums.

This workshop series is a way to engage directly with stakeholders on implementation of the Principles, including our own government’s consideration of steps we are taking or can take. We recognize that the U.S. government is one of the largest purchasers of goods and services in the world, and as such we have an opportunity to use our role as buyers to influence the market. This means considering everything from total costs to taxpayers to matters of responsible business conduct. We realize the government must continue to have clear systems and policies in place to promote these goals. For instance, building on President Obama Administration’s existing efforts to end human trafficking, the President signed Executive Order 13627 to strengthen protections against trafficking in persons in federal contracting, which we will hear more about later.

These are important discussions, not just for those parts of our government that are focused on fostering human rights and responsible business conduct, but also for those of us who spend most of our time ensuring that our government can obtain the goods and services that we need in the most efficient manner possible.

One area where we’re seeking to use our purchasing power to promote respect for and implementation of international human rights and humanitarian law protections is in our use of private security services. I know this topic will be touched on in more detail later today, but I’ll give a few highlights here because this in an issue with which I’ve been closely involved and provides a great example of what can be accomplished.

This past September, the U.S. government joined the Association for the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, or ICoC for short. The ICoC is a multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to establish objective and measurable industry standards based on international human rights and international humanitarian law principles. The United States has been deeply involved in the development of the ICoC, as well as a set of management standards based on the principles identified in the ICoC under the auspices of the American National Standards Institute, or ANSI.

The Department of Defense has already begun insisting on demonstrated conformity with the ANSI standard in their private security contracts. For our agency’s part, last August the State Department announced that we plan to require conformance with the ANSI standard and membership in the ICoC Association in order to bid on the next generation of our Worldwide Protective Services contract. The current version of that contract is valued at approximately $710 million per year.

Our intention is that these incentives will raise industry standards and promote greater respect for international human rights and international humanitarian law wherever these companies operate. The ICoC is just one of many issues that will be discussed today as we examine the intersection of human rights and government procurement.

This is a tremendous opportunity for us in the government to learn from the expertise in the room. So I’d like to close with several questions to consider during the discussions; questions we’re asking ourselves and that we hope you will help shed light on. First, how can existing procurement policies and practices incentivize and recognize corporate respect for human rights? Second, where are the gaps and what kinds of practical steps can we take as a government to address them? Third, how can we do these things in ways that minimize the costs to government? Fourth, how can we take advantage of existing external initiatives, and learn from the experiences of companies? And lastly, what are key human rights issues when it comes to procurement? Labor rights, human trafficking, and security service providers are important considerations, of course, but what other issues should we be thinking about?

I want to thank you again for your participation today, and encourage you to have in-depth and challenging discussions, and we look forward to continuing the discussion with you. With that, I’ll turn the floor back to Uzra as we move to our first panel discussion.

Related: Workshop on Government Procurement and Human Rights

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