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Bonn’s focus on fair trade and fair procurement

Municipalities buy up to 300 billion euros worth of goods from around the globe every year and thus bear a high level of responsibility when it comes to human rights. Verena Schwarte, Britta Amorin and Christoph Bartscher from the City of Bonn explain how Bonn has positioned itself with regard to this important topic.

Keyvisual Faire Woche 2016

What role do the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and fair procurement play in the City of Bonn?

Verena Schwarte: Bonn is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a German UN City this year. The SDGs are a daily topic here, because Bonn is the place where the United Nations brings together its work on the Sustainable Development Goals. Accordingly, Bonn is committed to implementing the SDGs here on the ground. In February 2019, the City Council adopted Bonn's first Sustainability Strategy as a roadmap for this localization of the SDGs. Fair procurement plays an important role in this context. Our strategic goal: "All procurement measures of the City of Bonn are based on sustainability criteria. By 2030, all available products will be procured according to product-specific sustainability criteria (social, regional, fair, ecological)." In February 2021, Bonn was one of 24 initial signatories to a resolution by municipalities calling for a strong supply chain law - stronger than the law that was passed afterwards. The resolution called for corporate liability provisions and effective government enforcement mechanisms. 

What concrete examples of fair procurement are there?

Britta Amorin: One of our showcase projects was "Gute Arbeit fairbindet" (Good work unites), in which the Department of Urban Green, together with the Procurement Services unit and the NGO FEMNET, procured service clothing for colleagues. In 2016, we purchased work trousers, shirts, jackets, vests, gloves and caps for around 37,000 euros, taking social criteria into account. The criteria were further developed for the 2018 to 2020 tender. More products were included, such as gloves, belts and boots made of leather, but also rubber boots. And the social requirements were made more stringent: the social criteria were now given a 30 percent weighting in the bidding for the contract. The volume of this procurement was around 120,000 euros. 

What are the experiences you have had on the bidding market?

Christoph Bartscher: We observe on the bidding side that a process has begun there in the direction of more social orientation along the supply chains. In the area of textiles, the market has already responded to a change in consumer behavior. Companies have now realized that it pays to invest in fair products.

What are the most important prerequisites for socially and ecologically sustainable procurement?

Bartscher: Any process of change can only succeed if the employees in municipal purchasing are sensitive to the minimum ecological and social standards in production and along the supply chains. It is also important to involve the employees who use the fairly produced products and make them part of the transformation process.

The biggest challenge for us so far has been to formulate performance requirements whose desired goals are attainable and, at the same time, take into account the market situation so that we can also obtain economic bids. In the first invitation to tender, the number of bidders had fallen significantly, but interest is slowly increasing again.

Sustainable procurement is already an integral part of the procurement directive. In addition, the administration is planning to launch its own directive on sustainable and socially fair procurement.

The City of Bonn has helped design a procurement tool that provides municipalities with assistance on procurement issues as part of a Sustainability Compass. What exactly does the tool do?

Bartscher: In everyday procurement business, there was no direct connection between the definition of the object to be procured and the topic of fair procurement. The tool creates this link by guiding the user through important decisions prior to the tender, helping to apply sustainability criteria in a way that is adapted to the item needed and the market situation.

The City of Bonn is also one of the first German municipalities to include sustainability criteria in its budget planning?

Schwarte: Yes. The budget is an essential linchpin for all municipal activities and, especially in times of tight budgets, it is important to use our budget resources as sustainably as possible. Only what is included in the budget can be implemented. 

With our participation in the "Municipal Sustainability Budget" project of the Regional Sustainability Network for North Rhine-Westphalia (LAG 21 NRW), we have, as a first step, converted seven municipal task areas into pilot areas for sustainability-oriented budgeting: international affairs and global sustainability, treasury, environment, consumer protection and Local Agenda, and bicycle traffic. In doing so, we link each area of action to the sustainability goals. This means a precise allocation of financial resources for the achievement of individual Sustainable Development Goals. 

With the Sustainability Strategy, we have given ourselves a clear mission statement in 2019. By means of the impact-oriented budget, we can see whether and to what extent we are getting closer to the Goals. For example, we do not simply look at how much money we spend on bike lanes, but link that to an examination of whether this actually leads to an increase in bicycle traffic in our city.

The link with sustainability indicators makes it much easier in further budget planning to see what has been achieved with our budget funds and where there is a need for follow-up. Transparency is increased. The sustainability budget therefore also serves as a control instrument for everyone involved.

How do you communicate the topic of fair trade and consumption to the public in Bonn?

Amorin: Bonn has been a Fairtrade Town since 2010, and since 2012 there has been a half-time position in the Local Agenda Office to coordinate fair trade activities in the city, with a particular focus on involving civil society. For example, the Fair Week program booklet published by the City since 2006 included 50 to 70 events each year prior to the Corona pandemic, and the City of Bonn has promoted Fair Week with posters and on info screens for many years. In addition, we provide financial support for related events, especially in schools. 

Since 2014, there has been a free fair breakfast on Bonn’s Münsterplatz central square during Fair Week, combined with a fair fashion show by Bonn stores, the annual "Rundum Fair", which attracted 600 to 700 visitors. In 2020, this event was merged with the Bonn Agriculture Festival for the first time, to become "Bonn - All Around Sustainable", in an online format due to the pandemic, in order to bring together the common focal points of regional, ecological and fair. This year, we are continuing the online events, but were also able to organize a face-to-face event on Münsterplatz with a focus on culture and sustainability. 

Globally sustainable communities: Sustainable development starts at local level

Municipalities play a central role in implementing Agenda 2030 of the United Nations. Two-thirds of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can only become reality with or in municipalities. These include health and well-being, quality education, clean water and decent work, as well as economic growth. 

Therefore, municipalities must also live up to their global responsibility and support the implementation of Agenda 2030 on the ground. There are many connecting factors here, including fair procurement, but also climate protection, sustainable mobility concepts and the increased use of renewable energies. 

Implementing Agenda 2030 at local level does not only call for a political consensus, but also for a clear strategy. That is why more and more cities are developing municipal sustainability strategies along with SDG action programs. They align their administrative actions with the 2030 Agenda and the German Sustainability Strategy to shape them in a future-oriented manner in terms of economically, socially and ecologically sustainable development. SKEW's "Globally Sustainable Municipality" program supports them in this endeavor.

About this article:

This article is the English translation of the German supplement published in the November issue of the development policy magazine  Weltsichten (opens in a new tab), which was produced in cooperation with the Service Agency Communities in One World. Under the theme "For decent working conditions", the issue focused on the important role of municipalities in global sustainability and the implementation of Agenda 2030 through their involvement in fair trade and fair procurement. 

The interview was conducted by Susanne Reiff, who works for the Weltsichten magazine as a freelance editor. Her interview partners were Verena Schwarte from the Department of International Affairs and Global Sustainability, Britta Amorin from Bonn’s Local Agenda Office and Christoph Bartscher, Head of the Procurement Services Department of the City of Bonn.