Company purchasing practices

Suppliers have a key role and responsibility for providing good working conditions for the people they employ. But their efforts can sometimes be undermined by the buying practices of their customers - often the same retailers who are pushing them to comply with their codes of labour practice.

Practices such as last-minute changes to orders and ever-shorter lead times can contribute to excessive overtime, increased use of casual labour, and even unauthorised sub-contracting. And pressure from retailers to reduce prices can make it difficult for suppliers to pay workers a living wage.

Many retailers are already starting to identify ways in which they can develop new buying practices that support rather than undermine suppliers' ability to provide decent pay and conditions for their workers. For example, many have embarked on ambitious training programmes to increase the awareness of buyers and commercial staff of the impacts of their decisions on workers.

Other really positive steps forward include creating 'ethical champions' in retailer commercial teams, who act as the 'go to' person in their team for ethical trade. Some companies are starting to reward their buying staff for taking labour standards into consideration when they place orders with their suppliers.

The role of ETI

  • We challenge and support companies to put ethical trade at the heart of their business practices. Working with our membership an alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs we are a powerful voice in the global marketplace.
  • We lobby government in the UK and overseas to enforce the laws that protect workers rights and in turn, the security of a supply chain.
  • We offer a safe environment in which businesses can share experiences and learn from each other, while gaining insights from international trade unions and NGOs.
  • We provide training programmes and workshops, including one on ethical buying practices.
  • We help companies to identify poor purchasing practices and improve them in each of our collaborative supply chain programmes.


We are curerrently working on new guidelines on company purchasing practices. Meanwhile, you may find our introductory guide to Integrating ethical trade principles in core business practice of use.