• Global corporations are increasingly committed to bringing social enterprises into their supply chains to promote a fairer society and more sustainable planet
  • Record level of trade between corporate buyers and social enterprises in UK in 2020 despite pandemic
  • Group of leading corporations launches new initiative to encourage businesses to ‘Buy Social’ across Europe to improve their environmental impact and support recovery from the pandemic

Diversity, inclusion and sustainability are higher than ever on the agenda for procurement professionals as leading corporations look to their purchasing power as a means to achieving positive social and environmental outcomes. In a push to contribute to an inclusive and sustainable post-COVID recovery, forward-thinking companies are opening up their supply chains to social enterprises – businesses with a social or environmental mission. Now a new partnership of global corporations and social enterprise bodies promises to make this form of trade far more common across Europe in the years to come.

A global movement of businesses trading for people and planet

Social enterprises are businesses which trade for people and planet. They reinvest the majority of their profits into their social or environmental mission, helping to bring about fairer and more inclusive economies and a more sustainable planet.

Social enterprises can be found in almost every country across the world, and here in Europe, the European Commission is becoming an increasingly strong supporter. The European Action Plan for Social Economy, due to be published later this year, will outline ways in which the Commission intends to support social economy actors and social enterprises to start up, scale up, innovate and create jobs.

UK trade between corporations and social enterprises reaches record high

An increasing number of social enterprises operate in the business-to-business space, delivering high-quality products and services to corporate clients across a wide range of categories – from employee benefits to events management, from recruitment to recycling, and from signage to software development.

In the UK ‘social procurement’ – the sourcing of goods and services from social enterprises – has taken off in recent years, spurred on by the success of the Buy Social Corporate Challenge. Launched in 2016 and led by Social Enterprise UK, the Buy Social Corporate Challenge now has 27 large businesses signed up, representing every major sector of the UK economy. Over £165 million has been spent to date with social enterprise suppliers by the participating businesses, and despite the challenges of the pandemic the level of annual social procurement spend hit its highest level yet in 2020.

The global social enterprise movement is thriving, and on every continent social enterprises are taking on the biggest social and environmental problems, and often making key contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals. Procurement leaders at large businesses have really stepped up in the last few years to build social enterprises into their UK supply chains, and I am delighted to see that our corporate partners are now focusing on creating opportunities for social enterprises across Europe.” Peter Holbrook, CEO of Social Enterprise UK

High-profile companies aim to boost social procurement across Europe

Some of these corporations – including Compass Group PLC, SAP and Zurich Insurance Group – are now working together to build on their success in individual national markets and take their social procurement work to the next level. They are part of a pilot, led by Social Enterprise UK with the support of Euclid Network, the European Social Enterprise Network and Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF), which aims to make it easier for corporations to engage with social enterprise suppliers across the whole of the EU + Switzerland region.

Senior leaders at the participating businesses are keen to see progress.

  • Dominic Blakemore, Group CEO of Compass Group PLC, commented “We believe social procurement is essential for a successful future. Across many of our regions, in particular the UK and USA, we’re already seeing first-hand the incredible social impact we can drive for communities, clients, customers and colleagues. Now, we’re looking forward to expanding our work globally alongside the other founding members of the Social Enterprise UK Global Expansion group.
  • Nikolaus Kirner, Chief Procurement Officer at SAP, commented “As we continue to see the impact brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, both economically and socially, we believe now, more than ever it is imperative that we transform our supply chain to generate social and environmental impact through engagement with social enterprises. With partnerships already in the UK, Canada, Australia, USA and the Netherlands, we are excited to continue expanding our social impact through this initiative. Together, this is how SAP and our partners Help the World Run Better and Improve People’s Lives.
  • Phil Soderberg, Head of Procurement and Vendor Management at Zurich Insurance Group, said “The Buy Social campaign has had a hugely positive impact in the communities we serve. Our spending with a stationery and talent development provider, for example, has helped transform over 1,000 lives around the world through programmes addressing gender inequality and social mobility. The campaign has also generated enormous energy inside our procurement organisation, and we are keen to expand the programme into other markets where we operate to make it a core pillar of our global sustainable sourcing drive.”

A database of approved suppliers has already been launched, allowing the companies to connect with a growing number of recommended social enterprises across the whole of the EU + Switzerland region. Germany and Ireland have been identified as countries where the social enterprise supplier base is more mature and where the opportunities to make rapid progress are even greater. Euclid Network members Social Entrepreneurship Netzwerk Deutschland (SEND) and Social Enterprise Republic of Ireland (SERI) are strategic partners supporting the delivery of the pilot, accelerating corporate engagement even further with leading social enterprises in Germany and Ireland respectively. One such organisation is Speedpak, a contract packing and fulfilment provider based in Dublin, which delivers logistics and e-commerce fulfilment services to a range of manufacturers and online retailers.

European corporations and social enterprises operating across the EU + Switzerland region are being invited to get in touch to find out more about the plans and get involved. Contact Andy.Daly@socialenterprise.org.uk to find out more.


Notes to Editors

For more information please contact:

Andy Daly, Head of Corporate Partnerships, Social Enterprise UK



About Social Enterprise UK

Social Enterprise UK is the largest network of certified social enterprises in the UK and the leading global authority on social enterprises. Together with our members we are the voice for the sector. We have led public policy for 15 years, helping pass the Social Value Act, and are a strategic partner to government. We exist to increase the profile of the sector through our campaigns and research, and build the markets for our members – working with some of the UK’s biggest companies to support them to bring social enterprises into their supply chains. Our members reflect the diversity of the sector ranging from local grass-roots organisations to multi-million-pound businesses. We see social enterprise as the future of business.


About social enterprises

Social enterprises are businesses which trade for a social purpose that reinvest or donate over half their profits to further this social or environmental mission. They are an increasingly important part of the UK economy contributing £60 billion and employing 2 million people. Estimates are there are 100,000 in the UK. Research carried out by Social Enterprise UK, the membership body for the sector, shows they are outperforming traditional businesses when it comes to start-up rates, turnover growth and innovation. They are also ahead of the pack when it comes to workforce diversity and pay. For more information and statistics see Social Enterprise UK’s State of Social Enterprise Report 2019 and the Hidden Revolution report which showed the true scale and impact of the sector.