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The Buck Stops Here: Using Public Funds for Public Good

Huffington Post

The United States spent around $3.6 trillion last year, on products, services, and employment, including contractors. Which companies benefited from these lucrative deals with our government? And what were our conditions on their performance? Shouldn't we, as the taxpayers that are funding these purchases, be able to expect the beneficiaries of these contracts to act in a way that reflects our values? As the largest procurer of goods and services in the world, we could have a tremendous impact in promoting human rights protections, both here and abroad, if we leveraged the use of our procurement dollars.

We've all heard the old adage that the customer is always right. As a customer with a few trillion dollars to spend, the U.S. government has a tremendous amount of leverage, and is no stranger to using this leverage to achieve policy goals or generate social benefits domestically and internationally. For instance, the U.S. already grants preferences in contracting to minority-owned businesses. In 1999, the Clinton administration issued Executive Order 13126, "Prohibition of Acquisition of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor." More recently, in 2012, President Obama passed Executive Order 13627 "Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts." Even at the state and local level, many governments have joined the SweatFree Purchasing Consortium in an effort to improve working conditions in factories they purchase their uniforms and other textiles from. In 2012, Maryland passed the Maryland State Procurement and Congo Conflict Minerals Bill, in an effort to make sure its procurement process was conflict mineral free, following in the footsteps of California. [...]

Reforming the way our government examines human rights, including labor rights, through procurement would benefit workers within the U.S. as well. Non-union federally contracted workers have staged several strikes in the last few months, over low-wages and alleged wage-theft. A study by the progressive think tank Demos estimated that 1,992,000 workers who jobs are funded by tax payer dollars receive $12 per hour or less.