Buying Social

We’re supporting the Buy Social campaign, using our purchasing decisions to realise greater social and environmental impact

We formalised our support for the social enterprise sector as part of our responsible procurement programme in 2016 as a founding member of the Buy Social Corporate Challenge (BSCC), a joint venture with Social Enterprise UK, the Cabinet Office and the business world. Its aim? To harness the spending power of business to realise greater social and environmental benefit. Buying from social enterprises empowers communities, creates opportunities for vulnerable people and supports our commitment to transition to a low carbon and circular economy, in line with our Purpose and our values. Since then, we’ve spent over £1 million annually with over 40 social enterprises.

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Our Buy Social strategy is made up of a number of strands, which include:

  • establishing fair, accessible and open procurement processes
  • working with Social Enterprise UK and our key suppliers to find prospective social enterprises
  • offering our commercial expertise and financial support to facilitate successful commercial engagements
  • raising awareness of social enterprise amongst our people, suppliers and clients
  • measuring our impact of buying social
buy social circle

Our approach 

Our approach to buying from social enterprises involves three complementary steps.

Procurement process

We aim to ensure that our supplier selection process is transparent and objective, and is flexible enough to accommodate smaller businesses like social enterprises. We also hold and participate in ‘Meet the Buyer’ workshops to help social enterprises understand how we work, as well as sharing insight into working with big corporates. In some cases, we’ve introduced requirements for key first tier suppliers to explore opportunities to use social enterprises in their provision of services to us.

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Identifying potential social enterprise suppliers

We work very closely with Social Enterprise UK and our first tier suppliers to identify social enterprises that might have the potential to supply to us. Typically, we pilot social enterprise goods and services in one part of our business before rolling them out more broadly, allowing the social enterprises time to get familiar with our requirements. Social enterprises can show their interest in supplying to us using this form.

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Supporting social enterprises

We provide support to social enterprises through the PwC Social Entrepreneurs’ Club, offering mentoring, skills development and capacity-building support. With around 300 social enterprises currently members of the Club, and more than 500 since its inception, it enables us to get to know each other ahead of any formal contracting.

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Opportunities and risks

There can be risks associated with buying from social enterprises compared to larger, well established suppliers. Some social enterprises may be less familiar with the standards and controls used by big businesses, so we collaborate to ensure the quality and security we need can be delivered in ways that are not overly burdensome for smaller start-ups. Another risk relates to the delivery capacity of smaller social enterprises, which may not—initially—be able to offer continuity of supply across our whole UK business. So, we adopt a ‘multi-local’ approach, and buy from social enterprises in categories that are not ‘business critical’ and where alternatives exist.

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 in the business. And, it complements our community affairs programmes, creating synergies that increase the impact of our work in both areas.

Programmes

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’.

The Fire Station

We set up a social enterprise hub eight 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.

Brigade at the Fire Station

The Fire Station also houses Brigade, our social enterprise bistro and 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, Beyond Food and WSH Restaurants. PwC is a key customer for Brigade, and regularly hosts corporate and employee events at the venue. 

Operational procurement

We procure goods and services from a variety of social enterprises to support our office operations, boost employee engagement and enhance our client marketing. Examples include:

  • Mediorite is a creative agency that provides training and opportunities for often marginalised young people to gain experience in the creative industry. We’ve used Mediorite for a number of projects requiring photo and video services, including the video library on this website.
  • 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 for use in the washrooms in our offices.
  • We continue to work with our corporate merchandise provider to offer an increasing number of social enterprise products. Now available are hand-made chocolates from Harry Specters, who provide employment opportunities for people on the autism spectrum; macaroons from Miss Macaroon, who train and employ young care leavers and ex-offenders; reusable notepads from Correctbooks, who send their wipeable stationary to children without education supplies in developing countries; and rucksacks from Madlug, who for every bag purchased give a backpack to a child in care. As approved suppliers to our corporate merchandise partner, these social enterprises now have access to a wider range of potential corporate customers.

Case study, Tea People and Nemi teas

Working with our catering contractor, Baxter Storey, we’ve introduced two new social enterprise teas in client spaces across our London Offices. The award-winning Tea People offer a variety of loose and bagged tea blends, ranging from the finest singles estate to herbal infusions. Founded to address the issue of educational development in impoverished tea growing regions of the world, they donate 50% of their profits to projects working to improve educational infrastructure for the children of tea workers.

Nemi Teas offer a variety of whole leaf tea blends as loose tea and in biodegradable tea pyramids. By giving refugees employment—at tea stalls and in their operations—Nemi work to increase employability, boost English skills and confidence and help refugees to integrate into broader society. All Nemi’s teas are Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance certified. Made from soilon—a mesh material constructed from polylactic acid and derived from starch, their tea bags are 100% biodegradable and plastic-free. Even the string and labels are both attached using ultrasound rather than glue.

“Our contract with PwC and BaxterStorey is literally a game changer! We’ve had other corporate clients in the past, but this is by far the biggest order. Crucially, this will help us empower and change the lives of many more refugees living in the UK.”

Pranav Chopra - CEO, Nemi Teas
Case study, Tea People and Nemi teas

Contact us

Emma Cox

UK Leader Sustainability & Climate Change, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7973 317011

Bridget Jackson

Chief Sustainability Officer, PwC United Kingdom

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