Device Procurement Must Have Ethical Angle

In short

We recently covered a new campaign being run by the British Medical Association (BMA) which draws attention to the appalling working conditions endured by workers in the medical device manufacturing sector in some countries. As unofficial yet implied representatives of the industry, medlatest is keen to support the campaign with a little more publicity and, given our global reach, in doing so play a small part in bringing this issue to light.


A BMA film, entitled The Human Cost of Healthcare, which can be found here, features a boy called Kabir who has worked in the surgical instruments industry since he was eight years old. He explains how his hand was crushed in industrial machinery. The film also shows working conditions in makeshift factories where people work in dark cramped dangerous conditions. The film is shocking, but how can we translate our concern into action and improve the lives of workers like Kabir?

The BMA strongly believes that providing health care in the UK should not be at the expense of labour rights of workers who manufacture medical products for the NHS, and that the NHS has the potential to use its huge purchasing power to become a leader in ethical procurement in the public sector and ultimately improve the lives of workers around the world.

Since uncovering shocking conditions in the production of surgical instruments in Sialkot, Pakistan, back in 2006, the BMA’s Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Campaign has been working tirelessly to raise awareness of the labour standards abuses it has uncovered in medical product manufacturing.

The BMA is calling on the NHS organisations to purchase medical supplies ethically and share and discuss the film with colleagues to raise awareness. Raising these issues with the chief executive, board and procurement teams of organisations can instigate change in procurement practice and drive improvement. NHS managers and procurement professionals, suppliers and healthcare workers all have the power to change the way the NHS purchases supplies.

The development of the Ethical Procurement for Health Workbook last year was a significant step forward towards making this aspiration a reality. The online workbook provides step by step guidance for NHS organisations to start indentifying poor labour standards and taking action through the procurement process and engagement with suppliers. This month, the BMA and Department of Health released training resources for NHS staff to further support staff. Suppliers and procurement professionals can now get to grips with these issues by completing a simple thirty minute online training module.

Improving the ethical standards of NHS supply chains is laudable but we also understand current economic realities of the NHS. But we do not have to choose between saving money and ethical purchasing as bringing transparency to supply chains can generate efficiencies. There is also evidence that providing decent working conditions can lead to increased productivity and improvements in the quality of products because of a boost in workforce morale and better worker retention. The sheer scale of spending on procurement in the health sector (approximately £30 billion per year in the UK) provides the NHS with the power to shift the market by making demands of suppliers to commit to ethical sourcing.

The BMA says that by supporting this campaign you have the potential improve the lives of workers overseas who are risking their health to make products for the NHS – whether that is immigrant workers manufacturing surgical gloves in Malaysia, women sewing nurses uniforms in India or children making surgical instruments in Pakistan.

Whether you are a procurement professional, healthcare professional, supplier or manufacturer, find out more about the issues and how you can change the system:

Source: BMA Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Group