First Case Lodged Against the UK Government Under the Public Procurement Legislation

By Tan Wei Heng

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https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/24/sexism-on-the-covid-19-frontline-ppe-is-made-for-a-6ft-3in-rugby-player

Overview of Facts

The High Court is slated to review the UK’s government decision to include Supermax, a Malaysian company, in its £6 billion framework deal for buying gloves. [1] The legal action concerns criticism of Supermax’s alleged use of forced labour in the manufacture of personal protective equipment (PPE). As such, lawyers from Wilson Solicitors have filed for a judicial review of the government’s decision to name Supermax an approved supplier of disposable gloves for the NHS. [2] Their decision ran in contrast to other governments, such as Canada and the United States who have either halded imports or banned them entirely after evidence of the company’s labour abuse came to light. [3]


Basis of the Case

Under the Public Procurement legislation, the UK government has the power to discontinue relationships with suppliers on the basis of labour abuses. [4] The issue, however, was that prior to awarding the contract, real verification of suppliers were required. Despite an initial investigation by the UK government, Supermax was nonetheless named an approved supplier. As a result, this gave rise to the first legal action under the public procurement legislation.


Comments

The decision of the government seems to suggest that their due diligence was merely tokenistic. Placed against a backdrop of nations who have done their public duty and refused to continue procuring PPE from Supermax, the UK government then seems hypocritical. The very action runs counter to the UK’s commitment of protecting the rights of workers.


References:

[1] Peter Bengsten, ‘UK faces legal action for approving firm accused of using forced labour as PPE supplier’, (Guardian, 6 Jan 2022), <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/jan/06/uk-faces-legal-action-for-approving-firm-accused-of-using-forced-labour-as-ppe-supplier>.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.