9.1 | Procurement

Procurement is the process of finding and acquiring goods, services, or works from an external provider. In built interventions, procurement is the process through which a building contractor is identified, assessed and hired for a project. The success of procurement is often assessed on the costs in relation to the quality of goods and services delivered, however, procurement can also have an impact on the following areas:

  • Safeguarding vulnerable adults and children

For example, by reducing the exploitation of cheap labour and eradicating child labour practices. As construction projects involve numerous tasks that require few or no skills, the sector attracts unskilled, vulnerable labourers seeking a daily income. In countries where high levels of unemployment are combined with other vulnerabilities (e.g. legal status), workers may accept very low wages and often unsafe and exploitative working conditions. Vulnerable children might also be employed.

Procurement for built interventions should therefore focus on safeguarding the people working on the construction site, as well as in the supply chain of materials and services. For example, in some areas of Lebanon it is common to find children working in steel factories. Therefore, if a project involves purchasing steel, visiting the supplier should be part of the procurement process to ensure that no child is hired to fabricate their products.

Guaranteeing a fair wage can help prevent adult exploitation. Fair wages should be determined through a consultative process with residents and other relevant actors, taking into account local legislation and regulations, rather than market prices, as these may reflect exploitative practices. Decisions on pay should be openly discussed with contractors and subcontractors, and monitored through maintaining a register of all workers on site, as well as carrying out an induction with new workers.

To ensure the highest standards of safeguarding, each implementing organisation should consult relevant guidelines such as those below, and national legislation. It also should review its own policies to ensure that an effective and practical process is in place.

  1. International Labour Organisation (ILO) 2019. Integrated Strategy on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 2017-2023.
  2. UNICEF 2014. Child Labour and UNICEF in Action: Children at the Centre.
  3. Save the Children 2019. Save the Children’s Position on Child Labour.

  • Livelihoods

For example, by hiring unskilled labourers and training them alongside skilled workers. Some construction jobs require low skills, therefore, in many countries the construction sector employs people unable to continue their education. Making the construction site an on-the- job training opportunity for local unskilled labourers, where possible comprised of both host and displaced residents, can result in higher earnings and improved livelihoods. Implementing actors can deliver livelihood programmes through training local workers in construction techniques and skills.

It is important that this aspect is taken into consideration from the start of the project, and that the implementing organisation takes full ownership
of the process, making it part of a well-structured livelihood programme. As some contractors may be unfamiliar with introducing livelihood programmes into their work, this aspect must be properly discussed rather than simply imposed, for example, as a contractual requirement.

  • Local economy

For example, by purchasing materials from small, local businesses. A significant part of the budget for a built intervention is allocated to building materials. Purchasing building materials locally can boost the local economy and provide income to local businesses (see step 7 – Choosing materials, skills and technologies). Purchasing locally can sometimes mean higher prices, so this needs to be taken into account when planning and designing the intervention. However, buying locally could result in lower maintenance costs in the long-term, as there is no need to import replacement components.

  • Community cohesion

For example, through hiring local labour and purchasing local materials.
In some contexts, the construction site might be located in an area where there are tensions between different groups, such as between displaced and host communities, while funding is often targeted at a specific group only (e.g. refugees). Built interventions offer an opportunity to inject a significant portion of the budget into local businesses and labour. This can help alleviate some tensions as the host community, which is often in a low-income area of the city, receives an economic benefit.

  • Health & safety (H&S) practices

To promote the wellbeing of vulnerable individuals who take part in all phas- es of the construction process. Health and safety requires attention when planning a built intervention, particularly because construction workers are often vulnerable and low skilled. A well-developed system for identifying hazards, evaluating risks, and implementing procedures that prevent and mitigate risks can ensure that unsafe practices are eliminated or reduced.

A H&S plan should identify the roles and responsibilities of different people to ensure the safety and wellbeing of workers throughout the project, including the provision of:

  • welfare facilities (e.g. changing area, drinking water and toilets);

  • induction for on-site rules;

  • procedures for training and supervision;

  • personal protective equipment (PPE);

  • emergency plans such as first aid and fire plans;

  • control measures for hazard/risk assessments.

Further guidance can be found on the Safety and health in construction (International Labour Organization, 1992).

  • The quality of the built environment

For example, by engaging with the contractor on the importance of different aspects of design and their impact. Making the contractor a partner in the project can enable the sharing of reasoning behind design choices, spatial configurations, choice of materials, etc. This creates mutual learning, as contractors understand the full potential of built interventions, and practitioners learn from the experience of the contractor. For example, if a contractor starts to see the value of buying local materials, hiring local labour, and applying safety measures on site, they might apply these principles in other projects, generating better built interventions.

The procurement process is usually governed by policy and procedures which dictate the steps for hiring a contractor. These policies and procedures differ from one organisation to another, but they often share similar principles. Developing a detailed procurement process is an important step towards guaranteeing the desired quality and impact of a built intervention. The United Nations Procurement Manual (2020) offers a comprehensive guide that can be used to tailor procurement policies and procedures for a variety of organisations.

It is good practice for architects or engineers designing built interventions to keep a database of selected local providers that can be shared with the contractor when required. This becomes particularly important when the design requires elements that might be difficult to source locally. Nevertheless, the design should aim to use local materials where possible, reducing the need for imported components (see step 7 – Choosing materials, skills and technologies).

Sometimes procurement processes and regulations set up by international organisations tend to favour established, larger, non-local contractors and make it difficult to use contractors within the community, who can be much smaller. Equally, such policies can make it difficult to purchase materials through small local suppliers. Managing smaller contractors also requires more work. There should be recognition of the importance of a localised procurement policy adapted to the local context, and its impact on many of the issues presented in this handbook. As mentioned in part A, it is important to build strong partnerships with funders and to discuss the importance of enabling an empowering procurement process.

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