Debate: Ethical employment (MfD)

That this meeting of Congress discusses the Code of Practice on Ethical Employment in Supply Chains and that the RCN’s Council should lobby for this important Code to be adopted by all health care providers across the UK.

What is the Code? In 2018, the Welsh Government introduced a Code of Practice on Ethical Employment in Supply Chains. Its aim is for all NHS and public sector organisations to take action to eradicate unlawful and unethical employment practices, and that all workers at every stage of the supply chain are treated fairly and equally.

At present this Code only applies to public and third sector organisations in receipt of public funds operating in Wales. Employment law is devolved within UK countries.

When an organisation in Wales signs up to the Code, it agrees to comply with 12 commitments designed to eliminate modern slavery and support ethical employment practices. These include:

• an annual review to monitor effectiveness
• fair and equal treatment of staff on outsourced contracts
• public sector staff outsourced to a third party sustain their terms and conditions,
• staff in outsourced public services are employed on terms and conditions comparable to transferred staff

There are specific commitments for NHS staff, including a clear policy on whistleblowing, a mechanism for people outside the organisation to raise concerns of unlawful or unethical employment practices, and to consider the living wage as a minimum and encourage suppliers to do the same.

All Government-funded public sector services are expected (but as yet not mandated) to this Code of Practice. Other organisations in Wales are also encouraged to do so.

The Code sets out guidance and recommendations for tackling the following challenges:

1. Modern slavery and human rights abuses;
2. Blacklisting;
3. False self-employment;
4. Unfair use of umbrella schemes and zero hour contracts, and
5. Paying the living wage.

The Code is accompanied by a toolkit providing practical advice and guidance to help with implementation of the Code, and are supported by the RCN Welsh Board.

UK-wide context


The NHS in England produces an annual statement to its governing Board detailing how it is tackling human trafficking and slavery, as mandated under the Modern Slavery Act of 2015. NHS England has confirmed plans to take additional measures to identify, assess and monitor potential risk areas in terms of modern slavery and human trafficking, particularly in its supply chains.

Northern Ireland:

According to research published in 2017, Northern Ireland’s workplaces are among the least ethical in the UK. 17% of employees in Northern Ireland have encountered someone using their position of power to sexually harass another person, 22% never consider the ethical implications of their actions, and 11% of workers in Northern Ireland have been asked to carry out tasks which they believe to be unethical. Despite this, 100% of those surveyed in Northern Ireland claimed that they personally acted ethically in the workplace.


NHS Scotland produced a five-year procurement strategy in 2018, outlining an approach to procurement and supply chains which includes a specific objective to progress ethical and sustainable procurement. In this case, ethical employment has been integrated as a priority alongside other areas such as delivering value for money and improving governance structures.

Existing RCN work on this issue

In 2017 the RCN developed guidance aimed at overseas nursing staff and health care assistants (HCAs) who want to work in the UK, as well as their potential employers, signposting to information and comprehensive advice.

The RCN has also developed an impact assessment tool. The RCN is also an active supporter of the Living Wage campaign.


Main Hall
ACC Liverpool
Kings Dock
Liverpool Waterfront
L3 4FP

RCN members can watch a recording of this debate via the RCN Digital Archive.

After logging in, navigate to Royal College of Nursing Congress under 'Items of interest'.

23 May 2019 10:15 - 11:45

Main Hall, ACC Liverpool , Kings Dock , Liverpool Waterfront , Liverpool , L3 4FP

Submitted by the RCN Cardiff and the Vale Branch

Page last updated - 18/12/2020