Project Information

Promoting Decent Work through Public Procurement in Cleaning and Private Security Services

Background and Objectives

This research project aims to explore the varying manifestations and results of novel forms of social dialogue and labour market regulation around the issue of socially responsible public procurement. The revised European Public Procurement Directives from 2014 have paralleled and supported efforts in EU member states to move away from ’buying at the lowest price’ towards ‘buying best value’ and ‘buying social’ in public procurement practices.

Yet the emergent norm of socially responsible public procurement (SRPP) can be at odds with aims and restrictions of competition law, and with financial restrictions and targets for debt reduction – which are likely to regain importance in many European countries as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, developing more inclusive variants of public supply chain governance requires actors to ‘experiment’ with new forms of inter-organisational coordination and control that supplement traditional forms of collective bargaining and labour market regulation.

This project investigates the “organisational and institutional experimentation” (Murray et al. 2020) social partners, public purchasers, civil society organizations, state agencies and multinational companies engage in, and the challenges they face, in their efforts to secure decent work through public procurement. More specifically, the project addresses the following research questions:

  1. Protective gaps and goals: What are the most important protective gaps for employees under public contracts that are not sufficiently addressed by established forms of work regulation and that would therefore benefit from new ‘experiments’ with socially responsible public procurement?     
  2. Strategies: Which tools and resources do actors mobilise for this purpose; to what extent do they seek to build alliances?
  3. Learning processes:  What kind of conflicts and obstacles arise in the process and how do actors cope with them?
  4. Institutional constraints and support: What role do regulative and budgetary constraints play? To what extent and how has the new EU procurement regime stimulated new experiments? To what extent and how does subnational, national and European legislation and jurisdiction inhibit a stabilization of experiments or force actors to adjust their strategies?


The research addresses these questions by collecting and analysing qualitative data both at the European level and in six European countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the UK. The core of the empirical investigation consist of expert interviews and local case studies in the six countries.

The study thereby seeks to account for country specific economic conditions, as well as different regulatory contexts that are likely to impact on the way how SRPP is used. As previous studies show, the differential impact of European level policies and case law on member states’ SRPP legislation and practices is closely linked with the different industrial relations models in these countries. We assume that this interplay between the industrial relation models and the public procurement regime also affects current and future adjustments of national policies and practices to the changed regulatory European context. Including the UK in the country sample offers the chance to study the changes in a regulatory context that moves outside the scope of the European procurement regime. By including countries from Northern, Southern, Eastern and Central Europe, the country sample also reflects important differences within Europe with regard to economic conditions.

The focus of the empirical analysis is on two sectors, security services and contract cleaning. These are industries where public procurement can potentially play an important role in securing decent work, as an important share of jobs in these industries are covered by public contracts. The cleaning sector employs a disproportionate number of women and migrant workers; 85 per cent of employees in the security sector are men. In many EU Member States, they belong to some of the lowest paid workers in the economies. It is in this context that the social partners in Cleaning and Security Services (EFCI, CoESS & UNI Europa) at the EU-level have developed their respective ‘Best Value Guides’ with the goal of advancing social and quality criteria. (see and

Project participants

The project is managed by UNI Europa’s Property Services team (Director: Mark Bergfeld). Karen Jaehrling, Head of research department at the University of Duisburg-Essen’s IAQ, assumes the Scientific Coordination of the project.

The approach of the study is characterized by a close cooperation between European employers’ associations (CoESS, EFCI) and EU trade unions (UNI Europa) and the research institutions in the six countries. Alexander Frank, Head of EU Affairs at CoESS, will coordinate the relationships between CoESS, the employer organisations at national level and the country research teams.

The following researchers are involved in the study:

Karen Jaehrling

Head of research department, IAQ/University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany (Scientific coordinator)

Daniela Böhringer Senior Researcher, IAQ, University of Duisburg-Essen

Bjarke Refslund

Associate Professor, Aalborg University, Denmark

Trine Pernille Larsen

Associate Professor, Copenhagen University, Denmark

Jens Arnholtz

Associate Professor, Copenhagen University, Denmark

Aristea Koukiadaki

Professor, University of Manchester, UK

Stephen Mustchin

Senior Lecturer University of Manchester, UK

Damian Grimshaw

Professor, Kings College London, UK

Julie Valentin

Maître de conférences, Université de Paris-Sorbonne I, France

Francois-Xavier Devetter

Professor, Université de Lille, France

Anna Mori Assistant Professor, University of Milano, Italy
Roberto Pedersini Professor, University of Milano, Italy
Lisa Dorigatti Associate Professor, University of Milano, Italy

Jan Czarzasty

Associate Professor, Warsaw School of Economics, Poland

Katarzyna Duda

Social policy advisor, OPZZ, Poland



Dr. Karen Jaehrling: Variegated de-marketization': manifestations and dynamics of extra-neoliberal politics and practices . Industrial relations and the Green Transition; towards inclusive and sustainable growth. 13th European Regional Congress of the International Labour and Employment Relations Association (ILERA), Barcelona, 8–10 September 2022, 10.09.2022  Weitere Informationen

Project data

Term of the project:
01.10.2021 - 30.09.2023

Reseach department:
Flexibility and Security

Project management:
Dr. Karen Jaehrling

Project team:
Dr. Daniela Böhringer

EU DG Employment and Social Affairs