CACI Ltd has been given an £18.5 million contract for key information technology work and other services for the 2011 Scottish Census. CACI Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of CACI International. The latter is a US-based defence contractor which was contracted to provide “interrogation services” at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
I am considering writing to my MP on this subject, asking him to hold my completed census form until he receives assurance from the General Register Office for Scotland that CACI will not be used to process the information I provide.
The Scottish Government states that EU procurement law compels it to award the contract to CACI. I believe that procurement law is seriously flawed and so am also considering sending the letter below to one of the MEPs who represents me.
What do you think? Your opinion is welcome.
Dear [name of the MEP]
EU procurement law, the Scottish Census and public procurement and human rights in general
Please find attached a letter I have written to my MP regarding the Scottish Census 2011 and CACI. You will notice from this that while I strongly disapprove of the contract being awarded to the latter organisation, I do not hold the Scottish Government responsible; I blame EU procurement law. Accordingly I am asking you, as my MEP, to do what you can to raise the issue of reforming this law in the European Parliament.
On the surface of it Scotland might appear to respect human rights. After all, the Scottish Parliament hosted the global event ‘Business and Human Rights’ in October 2010, and in the preceding month, according to Delivering Human Rights in Scotland An update on Scottish Public Authorities in 2010, “…the Scottish Government and COSLA provided leadership as well as producing practical guidance on the ‘Procurement of care and support services’ which ‘describes a service user and human rights-based approach …‘”. The same report states: “There are many examples of public bodies making general assertions about human rights such as ‘We will continue to ensure that equality and fairness is embedded in everything we do, and promote a respect for human rights at an individual, organisational and societal level‘”. However, the report goes on to say, “The purpose of this report is to identify explicit evidence of actions and impacts. This has proven […] to be problematic [my emphasis].” While I commend this report and its recommendations, I contend that a fundamental area crying out for reform, if human rights are to be respected on an international scale, is European procurement law.
My specific contention is that European procurement law, based on the questionable and relatively recent ideology of free-market capitalism rather than on basic human values, makes it all but impossible for public bodies to consider anything but the immediate financial cost of commissioned services. Thus highly significant externalities are rarely, if ever, considered. These externalities would include such inter-related criteria as impact on community cohesion, impact on inequality, impact on the environment and impact on crime. (It would be interesting if you could enquire as to how often such criteria have come into play in the awarding of public contracts in Europe.) Most significantly, the legislation makes it difficult to take an organisation’s record in terms of human rights, the environment, etc., into consideration when comparing bids.
I would like to see it made mandatory for criteria relating to human rights, wellbeing, health and the environment to be considered in the awarding of all public contracts, both in terms of the likely fulfilment of a contract and in terms of the records of bidding organisations and individuals (and their parent organisations, where these exist). The extent to which these criteria should be quantified and assessed would, of course, depend on the size of the contract, but simple guidelines could be drawn up for the smallest contracts, such as, for example, giving preference to those organisations with lower pay differentials and those owned by their employees, all other things being equal. (David Erdal, in his recent book, Beyond the Corporation – Humanity Working, presents an impressive array of evidence demonstrating the positive attributes of employee-owned companies, not least with regard to their impact on the general wellbeing of the communities in which they are sited. It has been praised by Jim Mather, who, as you know, is the Scottish Government’s Minister for Enterprise, Energy & Tourism: “This is a significant piece of work and I expect it to play an important part in creating a different ownership landscape in the years to come.”)
The latter point leads me to the topic of background information which might inform rational and moral procurement law. Apart from David Erdal’s book, I would recommend that those re-drafting the law consider these complementary books, which not only add up to a convincing and evidence-based condemnation of the narrow, destructive and “short-termist” economic orthodoxy of recent years, but also suggest how things could be improved:
- The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit by Bruce K. Alexander (which I have reviewed)
- The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
- Happiness: Lessons from a New Science by Richard Layard
I would also recommend that they familiarise themselves with the concepts of Social Return on Investment, Community Benefit Analysis and Social Accounting/Auditing. Finally, I attach a thought-provoking essay on the flaws in European procurement law and how it might be improved, which I have obtained the author’s permission to pass on.
I realise that it will not be easy to achieve consensus in this tricky area, but the present situation, where it is effectively impossible to stop public money boosting the profits of those responsible for hideous cruelty, is surely intolerable to any person of conscience.
I look forward to your response to this, and thank you for it in advance.
R. Eric Swanepoel