Aligned with its Buen Vivir plan, Ecuador is making efforts to guarantee current and future well-being through its procurement system, including through the introduction of green procurement standards and the strengthening of the solidarity economy.
State visions centred on sustainability and the well-being of communities rather than (or as well as) economic growth have been on the rise, for instance, in Scotland, Iceland, New Zealand and India, and in Latin America., Ecuador’s case is one of the first of its kind. In line with its 2008 constitution, Ecuador’s Buen Vivir (Living Well) plan, also called sumak kawsay, emphasizes values such as community well-being, reciprocity, solidarity and harmony with Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Ecuador has performed relatively well in terms of the ecological efficiency of its human development; according to a number of indices, well-being in Ecuador is ranked higher than in Italy, for example, where gross national income per head is at least three times as high.,
State strategy: ‘Living Well’
Ecuador’s Plan Nacional para el Buen Vivir promises an ‘inclusive and equitable development based on the fundamental tenet that no one can live well if others live badly’. The innovation in this strategy lies in the acknowledgment that a livelihood cannot be sustainable when it harms other livelihoods – an aspect that has been overlooked in prevalent sustainable development frameworks. More importantly, Buen Vivir is not a minor or sectoral project, but the core development plan for Ecuador, currently organized in three development objectives: 1) Rights for all throughout life – with equal opportunities for all, including nature and diversity; 2) Economy at the service of society, focused on solidarity, redistribution, food sovereignty and rural development; and 3) More society, better state – with transparency, participation and accountability. Within this strategy, breaking inequalities and building cities that are inclusive (particularly towards people with disabilities) have been the main focus of Ecuador’s work regarding the SDGs, with public procurement having a strategic role. Public procurement is intended to contribute to economic localization, rural development and food sovereignty, and has to meet criteria relating to efficiency, transparency, quality, and environmental and social responsibility, according to the country’s legal framework.
National products and services must be prioritized in Ecuador’s public procurement, in particular those supplied by micro, small and medium-sized productive units, as well as by the ‘popular and solidarity economy’. The popular and solidarity economy in Ecuador is a form of economic organization whereby members organize and develop processes of production, exchange, commercialization, financing and consumption of goods and services, to satisfy needs and generate income – based on relationships of solidarity, cooperation and reciprocity, privileging work and the human being as the subject and purpose of their activity, oriented to living well, in harmony with nature, over appropriation, profit and capital accumulation. The popular and solidarity economy includes associations, cooperatives, non-governmental organizations (NGOs)/charities, communities and women’s self-help groups. Along with preferential access to public procurement, Ecuador’s strategy also grants the popular and solidarity economy preferential access to financing and training, which has already showed progress: between 2010 and 2017, contracts awarded to organizations of the popular and solidarity economy increased sixfold, from $48 million to $282 million. For example, in the early 2010s the government sourced school uniforms made with fabrics of national origin by artisanal and microbusinesses and SMEs, and distributed them free of charge to 200,000 students.
Ecuador’s state strategy explicitly acknowledges the rights of nature (los derechos de la naturaleza), as enshrined in the country’s constitution, and encourages a competitive forestry sector through ecosystem restoration, the sustainable management of native forests, and the procurement of legal timber and legal forest products. Starting from 2020, public bodies are mandated to guarantee the legality of all wood products sourced by the public sector – which includes not only the central and autonomous governments, but also entities entitled to receive and administer public funds. In early 2020 the government established the Green Point Bureau (Mesa Punto Verde), a dialogue platform bringing together the public and private sectors, and trade unions, for the promotion and strengthening of environmental incentives to advance ‘green’ procurement. Companies wishing to supply government bodies will have to comply with environmental standards and seek accreditation from the Ministry of the Environment and Water. The greening of public procurement in Ecuador is starting with a limited range of products, including furniture, car plates, tyres and footwear. The idea is to progressively expand the portfolio of ‘greener’ purchases.
Public procurement can play a pivotal role in Ecuador’s unprecedented social pact in favour of equity actions towards peasants, indigenous populations and family farming – with their diversity of production systems – as well as localized and shorter supply chains supportive of stronger livelihoods. Of course, public procurement is not the only instrument for bringing such change. Ecuador’s strategy also encompasses a series of complementary policies related to the provision of credits, insurance, social security and infrastructure for these groups.
Development and sustainability
Underpinning Ecuador’s state strategy, it is possible to identify all five ‘development blocks’ and four of the five ‘sustainability pillars’ referenced in Figure 1. For instance, Ecuador’s procurement policy is wired as an economic facility for the popular and solidarity economy, which has effectively expanded the local economy and helped to reduce crime, poverty, health and economic inequality., Poverty and inequality remain high, however. Another challenge is Ecuador’s reliance on exports of oil, which has contributed to the climate crisis. There is indeed a contentious trade-off between oil drilling, subsidies, the conservation of rainforests and the rights of indigenous people., This is currently the subject of a number of legal battles and blame-avoidance behaviours.,