In May 2011, the BMA, in partnership with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and the Department of Health, launched "Ethical Procurement for Health", a practical online toolkit to help UK health organisations improve the working conditions in which goods for the NHS are produced.
Dr Mahmood Bhutta, advisor to the BMA's Fair Medical and Ethical Trade group, said: "The BMA has previously highlighted the poor labour standards and the use of children in the manufacture of goods bound for the NHS. I have visited Pakistan and have seen workers producing surgical instruments in terrible conditions. Many work twelve hours a day, seven days a week, some suffering serious injuries due to poor standards of health and safety.
"The publication of Ethical Procurement for Health aims to make ethical considerations part and parcel of purchasing decisions so that the lives of workers in the developing world are not put at risk to make products to treat UK patients."
Health Minister, Simon Burns added: "Safe, effective care and the respect and welfare of people who work to supply goods and services must be at the heart of the NHS.
"This workbook will help the NHS to identify and tackle abuses of workers' rights wherever they occur. I encourage and expect all NHS organisations to follow the principles set out in this workbook to help limit the potential for labour standards abuses and contribute to the health and wellbeing of people around the world."
Commenting on the benefits of introducing ethical purchasing in the current economic environment, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Director of Professional Activities at the BMA, said: "The NHS is experiencing a very challenging economic environment, but this cannot be used as an excuse to continue to exploit overseas workers. It is perfectly possible to use the buying power of the NHS to not only save money, but to improve the plight of those who manufacture the products we use to treat patients.
"There is also evidence that providing decent working conditions can lead to increased productivity and improvements in the quality of products because of a boost in workforce morale and better worker retention."
The workbook can be found at http://www.ethicaltrade.org/ethical-procurement-for-health