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Social Procurement | Pt 1: Offices


Social procurement is the act of buying from a social enterprise.

Social enterprises are businesses that put the interests of people and planet ahead of shareholder gain, and are driven by a social and/or environmental mission. Social enterprises commit to reinvesting most profits into achieving its objectives. This is a fundamental difference between social enterprises and traditional businesses, which are accountable to shareholders and as such are primarily driven by these interests.

Social enterprises are not charities, as being profitable is still important to them.

Different countries have different definitions of social enterprises, which we would like to combine under the concept of social businesses for the purpose of this article.

To put it simply:

  • A standard company sells a product or service to make a profit.

  • A charity would receive donations to solve a social or environmental issue.

  • A social business would sell a product or service to solve a social or environmental issue.

Social businesses use commercial tactics to achieve their goals, and allow them to detach themselves from relying on donations. The figure of the social entrepreneur is often very important, as these businesses are set up by smart business-minded people who are very invested in improving the lives of others, using sales for good.

The Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship gives an idea of the scale that such businesses have reached. It was co-founded by the Schwab Foundation, Ashoka, GHR Foundation, Skoll Foundation and Yunus Social Business , that are all organisations that exist to support more than 100,000 social entrepreneurs across the world, that have a direct or indirect impact on the lives of around 2 billion people.


Many companies have procurement offices purchasing all that the company needs for the offices and the supply chain, and separately have CSR teams making donations to charities.

But what if the two were combined, and instead companies were sourcing items from social enterprises? This would mean embedding their impact within their operations.

Yunus Social Business has developed the very useful Social Procurement Manual that helps companies navigate this topic, from which we have learnt a lot, and it got us thinking about how the Fashion industry could implement this concept.

We know that changing the material, design, or supplier of a garment is an extremely delicate topic, as designers, marketing teams, and customers all need to get onboard with the new option, however this doesn’t mean that Fashion companies can’t support social enterprises. There is a major opportunity for companies to buy from social businesses for all the things that are not related to the core product.

If an office buys its coffee from social cooperatives that support the livelihoods of farmers and the preservation of the rainforest that they work with, coffee can contribute to the company’s ESG agenda. If the paper that is used in the office is made in a factory that works with local recycling and employs people from disadvantaged backgrounds, then paper can contribute to a good cause too. The Christmas gifts that a company gives to all its employees could be products that come from lands that have been taken back from criminal organisations. There are social businesses that offer cleaning services, giving work opportunities to people who have suffered from abuse, or homelessness, and that deserve to be given another chance. Such businesses even offer services such as marketing or logistics, so without having to change anything about the core product, companies can widen their social impact by a lot.

Procurement teams need to start thinking outside the box, and learn about all the opportunities out there to work with social businesses.


table view of an office worker, with a macbook, an ipad, and imac. There are many books and papers on the table

Coffee ☕️

Old Spike Roastery is the UK's first social enterprise, based in London, and is a speciality coffee roastery selling high quality beans. 65% of their profits directly support people experiencing homelessness, which they also employ directly, allowing them to gain new skills and a job, using coffee as a vehicle for social change. They also collaborate closely with coffee farmers, from which they buy from a price which is about 4 - 5 times higher than the Fairtrade minimum.

In terms of coffee, WWF has also developed its own fully compostable Nespresso compatible capsules that directly address the problem of waste plastic and aluminium from coffee capsules ending in landfill. The sale of these capsules also supports WWF’s efforts in preserving biodiversity.

Cleaning services 🧹

Thrive Group Wales is a social enterprise, founded in June 2017, with the key purpose of developing a sustainable income stream to support women who have suffered from domestic abuse, by helping them get back into employment. The company offers cleaning services for construction, retail and office workplaces. Its other two commercial areas include a catering company and play centre.

Catering 🍴

City Beet Kitchens is a food-service based social enterprise helping homeless New Yorkers renew their lives, and offers fresh and creative office catering. The food is prepared by graduates of Project Renewal’s training program. Since its inception in 1997, City Beet it has grown from a small catering operation into a full scale business with an annual income of over $2 million.

Logistics 📦

Log’ins is a French program that offers solutions in fine logistics: e-commerce, advertising and promotion, and co-packing, while promoting the social and professional integration of people in exclusion, in particular of disabled workers. It has been selected by the sneaker brand VEJA as its logistics partner in France.

Photo Editing 📷

Imagtor is a social enterprise working from Vietnam for companies around the world, providing professional photo editing services. It was found in 2016, and more than 50% of its staff is from disabled and disadvantaged communities. Beyond creating employment opportunities, they also support the Will to Live centre, a Hanoi based nonprofit.


We always revive our hope in the world when we read all these incredible stories. News about sustainability can be extremely sad and overwhelming, which is why it is important to remember that out there, there are hundreds of thousands of people doing incredible things. If companies changed only a few of their suppliers to social businesses, change could happen a lot faster.

Stay tuned for the next article, where we will look in more detail about such opportunities in the Fashion industry.

We hope that you feel motivated to do some research on social businesses near you and speak with the purchasing team in your company or office. Good luck!


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