Helsinki (12.04.2011 - Heikki Jokinen) Ethical criteria have become more common in work-clothes purchases by public sector organisations. However, most still fail to give any serious consideration to the working conditions of their suppliers. This is the conclusion of a new study, carried out by researcher Päivi Pöyhönen and commissioned by Finnwatch*.

The study covers sixteen public sector organisations and three state-owned companies. And an interesting and positive development has been revealed by the study.

Currently, one third of the above have introduced ethical demands, which must be met by their work-clothes suppliers. Four years ago a similar study revealed that at that time none of these public sector bodies had such demands in place.

The buyers that set ethical criteria for their work-clothes providers are the cities of Helsinki and Vantaa, the Defence Forces, Customs, Finnair and Itella (the government-owned postal services company). The City of Helsinki and the Defence Forces demand that their suppliers comply with the core labour standards of the ILO.

Some of the organisations have noticed flaws at the factories of their Asian suppliers. Wages have been below the official minimum, overtime work has not been properly compensated and too many overtime hours have been worked. Also, substandard occupational safety work has been detected.

Most of the work-clothes imported to Finland are produced in Asia, but Finland's southern neighbour Estonia tops the list of countries of origin. 30 per cent of the work-clothes imports originate from China. Bangladesh, India and Turkey supply from 4 to 6 per cent each.

According to Finnwatch, in Sweden municipalities have close mutual cooperation when setting ethical criteria for their purchases and the municipalities themselves even audit factories in developing countries. In Belgium, the public sector has actively increased the proportion of sustainable purchases and this year they will account for half of all their purchases.

"In Finland, it is common to refer to technical difficulties in setting ethical criteria. But as it is possible elsewhere to set ethical demands it should be possible here also", Janne Sivonen, the executive manager of Finnwatch, says.

*Finnwatch monitors Finnish companies in developing countries and economies in transition. The focus of its action is on human and labour rights and environmental and social consequences of the companies' behaviour. Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland (SASK) is one of the seven organisations behind Finnwatch.