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Updated 11:00 AM April 19, 2004



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Purchasing task force recommends vendor code of conduct

The President's Task Force on Purchasing Ethics and Policies has recommended that the University adopt a code of conduct designed to encourage ethical and socially responsible practices on the part of University vendors. The task force released its report after nearly a year of work.

The group was appointed by President Mary Sue Coleman in May 2003 in response to a concern that a University vendor was paying substandard wages. Coleman charged the task force with reviewing the purchasing policies of U-M, studying comparable policies of other universities and institutions, and with recommending policy language that would reflect the University's core values.
The task force recommends a code of conduct for all University vendors that
encourages ethical and socially responsible practices.

The seven-member task force, chaired by Theodore St. Antoine, professor emeritus of law, included three faculty members, two staff members and two students. The group held 17 full-committee meetings and two public forums to gather information from vendors, University administrators, the campus community and the public. It also did extensive research into practices at other universities nationwide, and examined government regulations and other relevant policies.

"This was one of the most thoughtful, considerate groups I have ever worked with," St. Antoine says. "Members started with quite different perspectives but they all paid close attention to each other's views and tried to accommodate them. We ultimately reached consensus and produced a unanimous set of recommendations."

The task force noted that its proposed code is designed to address the moral implications of the University's vendor relationships while taking into account practical considerations, such as the number and variety of affected vendors and the cost associated with time-consuming contract negotiations. In order to deal with the variety of factors at issue, the task force drafted a code of conduct that defined three tiers of standards for vendors.

The sole mandatory condition, set out in tier one of the code, would require that vendors comply with all applicable laws, which is a restatement of existing University policy.

The second tier establishes a set of "Primary Standards." The University would make every reasonable effort to choose vendors that meet these standards. The Primary Standards primarily elaborate on federal or state labor law but also draw some provisions from U-M's current code of conduct for licensees.

The recommended Primary Standards state that vendors should not engage in employment discrimination and should be equal employment opportunity employers, recognize the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and recognize minimum and prevailing wages, overtime, and other labor standards.

The Primary Standards also would require vendors to provide a healthy working environment, refrain from the use of forced labor and refrain from harassment or abuse of employees.

The third tier sets forth "Preferential Standards," which would be aspirational in nature. Under the proposed code, the University would "strive to do business" with vendors who comply with these conditions.

The Preferential Standards state that vendors should provide a living wage for their employees and show leadership in environmentally responsible practices. They indicate that the University would avoid doing business with vendors who violate human rights or labor standards.

The task force report also recommended establishing a Purchasing Dispute Review Board that would monitor compliance with the code and investigate complaints about University vendors. The review board's findings and recommendations would go to the executive vice president and chief financial officer, who would make final decisions.

"I am pleased with the rigorous and thoughtful efforts of the task force and with the recommendations set forth," Coleman says. "The proposed codification of purchasing standards is a significant contribution to our commitment to sound, ethical and socially responsible practices. We are beginning the work to finalize the proposed code and to take the steps necessary to implement the committee's recommendations by the fall."

The complete task force report can be found on the Web at

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