Fair trade and European public procurement: legal principles and governance dynamics

Fair trade and European public procurement: legal principles and governance dynamics
Document type
Fisher, Eleanor; Corbalán, Sergi
Date of publication
1 May 2013
Social enterprise journal. Vol 9; Number 1
Small business & enterprise: the practicalities of running a small business and the theory of entrepreneurship, Management & leadership: including strategy, public sector management, operations and production
Business and management
Material type

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Purpose– The article aims to examine principles of fair trade in public procurement in Europe, focusing on legal dimensions related to the European Public Procurement Directives. Design/methodology/approach– The article situates public procurement of fair trade products in relation to the rise of non-state regulatory initiatives, highlighting how they have entered into new governance dynamics in the public sector and play a part in changing practices in sustainable procurement. A review of the legal position on fair trade in procurement law is informed by academic research and campaigning experience from the Fair Trade Advocacy Office. Findings– Key findings are that the introduction of fair trade products into European public procurement has been marked by legal ambiguity, having developed outside comprehensive policy or legal guidelines. Following a 2012 ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union, it is suggested that the legal position for fair trade in procurement has become clearer, and that forthcoming change to the Public Procurement Directives may facilitate the uptake of fair trade products by public authorities. However potential for future expansion of the public sector “market” for fair trade is approached with caution: purchasing fair trade products as a marker of sustainability, which started to be embedded within procurement practice in the 2000?s, is challenged by current European public austerity measures. Research limitations/implications– Suggestions for future research include the need for systematic cross-institutional and multi-country comparison of the legal and governance dimensions of procurement practice with regard to fair trade. Practical implications– The paper provides a clarification of current state-of-play with regard to legal aspects of fair trade in public procurement of utility for policy and advocacy discussion. Originality/value– The article provides needed elaboration on an under-researched topic area of value to academia and policy makers.

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