Buying social

As part of our responsible procurement programme we seek to use our purchasing decisions to realise greater social and environmental benefit. This fits with our values and our purpose – ‘to build trust in society and solve important problems’ - and demonstrates one way sustainability considerations can be incorporated into mainstream business decision-making.

We’ve been buying from social enterprises for a number of years and spent around £2.25 million with 59 social enterprise suppliers in 2016. This year, we also formalised our commitment to buying from social enterprises by joining the Buy Social Corporate Challenge as a founding member. The Challenge was set up by Social Enterprise UK in partnership with the Cabinet Office and aims to increase the collective spend with the UK’s 77,000 social enterprises, by 2020.

We are committed to buying goods and services from social enterprises, businesses that reinvest their profits for good, benefiting people and the planet.

  • We have fair, accessible and open procurement processes
  • We are raising awareness of social enterprise across our business
  • We have trained relevant staff about buying from social enterprise
  • We work with Social Enterprise UK to find social enterprise suppliers
  • We are committed to measuring the impact of buying social

Our approach  

Our approach for buying from social enterprises involves a three distinct but complementary steps.

  • Procurement process: We aim to ensure that our procurement process is transparent and objective in the selection of suppliers and is flexible enough to accommodate social enterprises and smaller companies. Where appropriate, we’ve introduced requirements for first tier suppliers to explore opportunities to use social enterprises in their service provision. We also hold and participate in ‘Meet the Buyer’ workshops to help social enterprises understand how and what we procure, as well as sharing insight into working with big corporates.
  • Identifying social enterprises we can procure from: We work very closely with Social Enterprise UK and our first tier suppliers to identify social enterprises that might have the potential to provide us with goods or services, now or in the future. Typically, we pilot social enterprise goods and services in one part of our business before rolling them out across the UK, allowing the social enterprises time to get familiar with our requirements step by step.
  • Supporting social enterprises: We provide support to social enterprises through the PwC Social Entrepreneurs’ Club, offering mentoring, skills development and capacity-building support. With 250 social enterprises already members of the Club, it acts as something of a ‘nursery’, where we can get to know each other ahead of any formal contracting.

Opportunities and risks

There can be extra risks associated with buying from social enterprises when compared to suppliers who are well established, with mature business practices and processes. Some social enterprises may be less familiar with the high standards and controls used by big businesses, so we collaborate to ensure the quality and security we need are delivered in ways that do not become overly burdensome for these small start-ups. Another risk is that of continuous and comprehensive supply, due to the scale of our business versus the typical size of a social enterprise. This requires us to have a ‘multi-local’ approach as they may not – initially – be able to provide their product or service across the whole of the UK. We also tend to buy social enterprise goods or services in categories that are not ‘business critical’ and where there are alternatives in place, to mitigate the risk of supply disruption. 

On the whole, however, we feel that the opportunities outweigh the risks. ‘Buying social’ fits with our commitment to diversity and inclusion, encouraging social mobility and supporting disadvantaged groups in society. It also inspires our people, engendering pride and contributing to the retention of talent. And, buying from social enterprises is complementary to our community affairs programmes, creating synergies that increase the impact of our work in both areas.


Social enterprises have formed a key pillar of our community programme for several years, and we’ve established a range of ways to ‘buy social’.

We set up a social enterprise hub five years ago at The Fire Station in London. It’s home to a number of important social enterprises, including the School for Social Entrepreneurs (an incubator and training ground for social enterprises) and Social Enterprise UK (the social enterprise trade association). We spend with both, for training and marketing opportunities associated with social enterprise.

The Fire Station also houses Brigade, our social enterprise bistro bar, which provides training and employment opportunities in food service for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. It’s delivered through the Beyond Food Community Interest Company (CIC), a unique collaboration between PwC, De Vere Venues, Beyond Food and Big Issue Invest. PwC is a key customer for Brigade, and regularly hosts corporate and employee events at the venue. 

We also procure social enterprise goods and services to support our office operations, boost employee engagement and enhance our client marketing.   

Brighter Environment CIC provides socially responsible facilities management, offering employment opportunities for young, long-term unemployed. We’ve engaged Brighter Environment, through our cleaning contractor, to provide cleaning services for the Fire Station.

The Soap Co. manufactures and sells toiletries and cleaning products, employing blind or people with other disabilities who cannot find opportunities in mainstream industry.  We buy The Soap Co. products through our cleaning contractor and now use their soaps in the washrooms in our offices.

Bikeworks aim to build a more diverse cycling community, improve mechanical skills, and support businesses to be greener through the promotion of cycling. This social enterprise provides employment opportunities to hard-to-reach groups, training them as bike mechanics. We’ve engaged Bikeworks to undertake bike maintenance and MOTs at our office sites, and to provide cycle safety training for our people, as part of our sustainable behaviours programme.

Over the last year, we’ve worked closely with our corporate merchandise and gifts provider to introduce a social enterprise range. Products include hand-made chocolates from Harry Specters (providing employment opportunities for people on the autism spectrum), macaroons from Miss Macaroon (providing training and employment for young care leavers and ex-offenders), water bottles from Give Me Tap (providing clean water to people in Africa) and Elvis & Kresse keyfobs (reducing waste by recycling old firehose into luxury goods). 

To find out more about our Buy Social programme, please contact Katie Pour.

Contact us

Katie Pour
Manager, Corporate Sustainability
Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 1806

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