Socially Responsible Public Procurement - Furniture

Here you find information about generalised risks of human rights breaches in the global supply chains of furniture.

Risks of human rights breaches

The furniture industry includes a wide range of products, materials and manufacturing processes. Furniture can be made of everything from plastics and wood to metal or glass, and consequently value-chains and working conditions vary greatly depending on the specific product.

In many cases the furniture industry is labor-intensive, demanding a lot of manual work. There are many countries involved in the furniture industry on a general level. Still, products included in this category are to a large extent designed and manufactured in Scandinavian countries. Components are also to a high degree sourced from European countries and to some extent from Asian countries. If components are sourced from Asian countries, the risks of labour rights abuse and poor working conditions increase. On a raw material level, traceability is limited. Ore, oil and other substances can come from all over the world, although also to a large extent sourced from Europe. Consequently, risks tend to increase further down the supply chain, in developing countries with weak legal institutions and limited rule of law. It is therefore important to keep in mind that risks may vary substantially depending on where components and raw materials are produced.

Here you can read the whole report on human rights abuses in global supply chains of furniture:

Risk assessment on human rights issues in the production of furniture (pdf.)
pdf 1.34 MB

Specific risk assessments

The table below gives a generalised estimate of the level of risk of human rights abuse in the main tiers of the furniture supply chain (raw material extraction; component production and final assembling).  Some products purchased by public procurers in Norway have been selected to exemplify the risk levels. 

Product Assembly Component Raw material
Furniture Low risk Medium-high risk High risk
Height-ajustable desks Low risk Medium-high risk High risk
Meeting tables Low risk Medium-high risk High risk
Office chairs Low risk Medium-high risk High risk
Shelves and cabinets Low risk Medium-high risk High risk
Student chairs Low risk Medium-high risk High risk
Light-sources High risk High risk Very high risk

Guidance for use of SRPP instruments when purchasing furniture 

The level of risk of human rights abuse for the products exemplified reveals that the the level of generalised risk of human rights abuse in the supply chains is low to high in the production of furniture.The main risks are beyond the 1st tier (final assembly), during component production and raw material extraction. As the risk level is higher further down in the supply chain this suggest use of socially responsible public procurement (SRPP) instruments to promote human rights during the production process in the supply chain of furniture, even though the risk level at assembly level is low. 

Disclaimer: Please notice that the level of risk for human rights abuses could vary for other types of products then the examples above. Furthermore, the risk assessments are based on supply chains for high risk products imported to Norway and the supply chain can look different for products imported to other countries/continents. 

1) Planning the purchase of a high risk product 

When using the SRPP instruments, consider the core principles of public procurement: transparency, equal treatment, open competition, and sound procedural management.

Having an open dialoge – communicating expectations on human rights due diligence - with the supplier market is essential to prepare suppliers on the SRPP requirements.

2) Writing the tender documents for the purchase of high risk products

The length of the contract and the financial value of the transaction should guide decision making towards investing main focus in the contracts with highest financial total value and the longest contract periods.

SRPP special contract clauses  should be added to the tender documents.

It could also be considered to use selection criteria (currently only available in Norwegian) if the level of the market maturity is high (i.e several suppliers have human rights due diligence systems in place at the time of the writing of the tender documents).

3) Contract follow-up 

Using SRPP special contract clauses implies that the public entity shall follow up the contract. Several of the products outlined in the table above have low risk at assembly level. In such cases it could be advised to ask the supplier about information of components. 

SRPP self-assessment guidance could be used as reference for contract follow-up.

Oppdatert: 3. juni 2022

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