Contract Worker Justice critical of SFU’s new social procurement guide

SFU implements a new guide on buying goods and contracting services to support community members

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SFU AQ outdoor staircase
PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson

By: Karissa Ketter, News Writer 

SFU has developed a new social procurement guide designed to “drive positive social change throughout their procurement activities,” according to their website. Social procurement involves SFU purchasing ethical goods and contracting services to influence the well-being of the community. 

“The purpose of social procurement is to expand purchasing practices to create positive impacts on the economy and for people in our communities,” said Mary Aylesworth, director of financial operations, in an interview with The Peak

The new guide encourages acquiring goods and services through small businesses. Social Procurement: Amplifying You Purchasing Dollars for a Better World, can be applied to all post-secondary institutions. It aims to provide more resources and funding to improve the social conditions of local communities.  

In a statement to The Peak, the Contract Worker Justice (CWJ) campaign at SFU expressed concerns. They said, “This kind of initiative is welcome for some kinds of procurement but is not appropriate as a way to resolve the employment issues affecting contracted food service and cleaning services. SFU historically has not included sufficient socially progressive principles when putting out a call for bids on contracts for food and cleaning services.”

CWJ has been pressuring SFU to stop business with third-party companies who hire SFU’s food and service workers. Not hiring workers in-house allows SFU to hire cheap labour without offering job benefits, living wages, or job security. 

They recently published a report outlining the poor working conditions of the food and cleaning service workers at SFU where they found “contracting out has created an environment in which the university evades meaningful accountability to the workers.”

The CWJ statement noted “contracting-out food and cleaning services at SFU makes it much more difficult for the university to achieve the goals in this procurement guide since they give the decision-making power up to a company who needs to make money in order to stay in business.

“This means part of the money that SFU spends on these services, that could go directly to improving wages and working conditions of workers, ends up going towards the profits of the companies who end up employing these workers.”

CWJ is calling on SFU to hire their food and cleaning service workers directly, “rather than hope a contractor will meet the principles outlined in this guide.”

When asked about SFU’s outsourcing of food and cleaning service workers, Aylesworth said, “SFU has been focused on the social aspects of sustainable procurement and the services provided by the university for a very long time. We have also been a progressive and innovative leader in working with contracted providers. The new guide is yet another tool at our disposal as we work to remain a leader with respect to fair and progressive working conditions.”

As the new guide is being implemented, SFU is currently updating policies and procedures. They have created a Social and Indigenous Procurement Working Group dedicated to reaching out to sectors in the local markets and promoting their program, according to Aylesworth.

Aylesworth noted “social procurement at SFU predates this guide and so it’s not so much about changing practices, but about expanding our practices to ensure that we are providing more value beyond SFU.”

This guide is an initiative created by the BC Collaboration for Social Infrastructure (BCCSI) and is available to all Canadian post-secondary institutions through the Canadian Association of University Business Officers

To stay updated on the Contract Worker Justice campaign, interested parties can follow them on social media or their website