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The words purchase and procure are frequently used interchangeably; while common using the two words interchangeably is not necessarily accurate. Purchasing is just a part of the procurement process, an important one, but only the specific function associated with the actual buying of goods and services from suppliers.  For the sake of this guide, procurement and purchasing will be differentiated along these lines. 

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Procurement Principles in the Humanitarian Context

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  1. Sourcing and Identifying Vendors
  2. Product/Service Requisition 
  3. Solicitation 
  4. Evaluating and Awarding
  5. Ordering and Contracting
  6. Reception and Payment 


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Sourcing and Identifying Vendors  

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In general, any Solicitation document, no matter the procedure, will contain:
What is Required
  • Depending on the nature:
    • For goods; Technical specifications or statement of work (SOW) (Functional, conformance and performance Specifications for products).
    • For services; Terms of Reference (TOR) (background, objectives, deliverables, standards to be met, performance evaluation method, timelines, etc.).
    • For construction works or services; Statement of works (SOW) shall provide all information required to allow the contractor to undertake the works (e.g., location, time schedules for the execution of the works, relevant information about the construction site and other technical requirements that are deemed necessary).
    • Quantities
  • Expected Delivery Conditions; times, locations, Incoterms 
Instruction to suppliers
  • Instructions for preparation and submission, submission language.
  • Timing: deadline for submission, offer validity and expected award times.
  • Details of pre-bid where applicable. (meetings/site visits, and/or samples/ demonstrations).
  • Provision of prototype samples of products were required. 
  • Method of evaluation and evaluation criteria, including permitting third party inspection -party inspection companies where required.
  • Payment terms.
  • Contact information.
The applicable Terms and Conditions
  • Ethical policies to be adhered by the supplier.
  • Special conditions applicable as; Termination; Trade Terms; Inspection; Warranties; Rights and Obligations; Remedies; Subcontracting; etc.

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Contracts with suppliers - Material specifications included in contracts will legally hold vendors to the standards set by their bids. The material specifications in contracts should match the specifications provided in the bid process.

Instructions to third-party inspection companies - Once a vendor is selected, and a contract agreed upon, third-party inspection companies can be used to test products against the contracted material specifications. Inspection companies may use visual inspection or laboratory testing to confirm all material specifications are met. Many agencies prefer to receive prototype samples of items prior to the final order, and conducting inspection at multiple points throughout the entire process. Purchasers may also chose to withhold payment until the final inspection is complete. 

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Sometimes it is difficult to get an idea of ​​a supplier only through official bid documents. Purchases may want to visit the suppliers in their workplace, especially when agencies intend to start a lasting relationship with a given supplier. Do not underestimate the power of an in-person conversation, or the details that can be learned by knowing their facilities.

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Helpful steps to follow:

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Supplier management is a set of principles, processes, and tools that can help organisations maximise supplier relationships, minimise risks, and manage overheads throughout the entire relationship life-cycle. Active supplier management entails creating closer and more collaborative relationships with key suppliers to achieve greater value and reduce risks.

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It is important to know specifications of the products or services required, the legal framework for their acquisition and their availability in the market. Not taking these three concepts into account increases the risk of not finding required items, procuring incorrect items, or not respecting local norms and behaviours when purchasing them.

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  • Visual Inspection – If a vendor supplies prototype sample prior to final delivery, organisations or specialists may wish to visually inspect and test the product, either at the vendor premise or at another off-site location.
  • Laboratory Testing – In addition to visual inspection, agencies may wish to employ third-party laboratory testing. Lab testing may include testing for chemical composition (for durable construction materials or for pharmaceuticals), may test against pre-defined ISO standards (such as flame retardancy of NFIs) or even the quality of food stuffs.
  • Third-Party Inspection – Many agencies wish to employ third-party inspection companies to carry out quality assurance. Third-party inspection companies will generally conduct lab and visual product testing, but may also visit suppliers' warehouses and production facilities throughout the production process to ensure full compliance. Organisations that utilize third-party inspection services may want to include the obligation of suppliers to allow third-party inspection companies into production sites without advanced notice to enhance the randomness of the process.
  • Provision of Certification – Simpler than conducting independent laboratory testing, suppliers may be asked to produce certificates indicating conformity or quality. Typically, this pushes the cost and complexity of laboratory testing onto the vendor, but may also lead to forgery or fraud as the inspection process is out of the hands of the procuring agency.

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  • Fraud is defined as any intentional act or omission, designed to harm others, with the result that the victim suffers loss or damage and / or the perpetrator makes a profit.
  • Corruption is the misuse of a power entrusted by delegation, for private purposes, such as personal enrichment or that of a third-party, a friend, a family member. It consists of refraining from doing, facilitating something, or taking advantage of its function in exchange for a promise, a gift, a sum of money, or advantages of various kinds.
  • Misappropriation consists of the theft or misuse by any means of a resource or material owned by a third-party.

We can place these three at the same level - they are all improper conduct. This guide will refer to fraud and anti-fraud policies when referring to all three of the aforementioned categories. To deal with fraud, it is necessary to for organisations establish an anti-fraud policy document. Likewise, the entity must periodically assess the exposure to the risk of fraud.

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Related to Personnel

  • Manipulation of the evaluation criteria after the opening of the tender.
  • Contracts awarded by single source or non-competitive process.
  • Requirements defined in a way that only a specific manufacturer or supplier can meet.
  • Multiple purchase requests started in close proximity for similar requirements to avoid boundaries threshold.
  • A staff member does not separate duties.
  • Excessively narrow or wide specifications.
  • Officials do not delegate their responsibilities or they refuse to go on vacation.
  • There is no clear information on the presentation of offers.
  • Inadequate documentation (no PR, OC, CBA and GRN).
  • Overly friendly relationship between a provider and any persons conducting procurement.
  • Unusually high exemption rate.
  • Tender announcements scheduled to match with holidays.

Templates and Tools

TEMPLATE - Purchase Request

TEMPLATE - Bid Matrix

TEMPLATE - Purchase Order

TEMPLATE - Purchase RequisitionTender Report

TEMPLATE - Supplier List

Full Template Package

Sites and Resources

  • Sphere Project, Handbook (2018)
  • International Review of the Red Cross (2016). Principles guiding humanitarian action.
  • CALP The Cash Learning Partnership (2018). Minimum Standards for Market Analysis (MISMA)
  • ECHO, European Commission Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid (June 2019). Guidelines grant/contribution agreement with humanitarian organisations
  • ECHO, European Commission Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid (May 2020). Framework partnership agreement with humanitarian organisations
    • ANNEX III; General Conditions
    • ANNEX IV; Rules and procedures applicable to Property, Supply, Works and Service Contracts Awarded within the Framework of Humanitarian Actions Finance by the European Communities
  • ICRC, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (2014). Market Analysis Guidance
  • ICRC, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (2014). Rapid Assessment for Markets
  • WFP, World Food Programme, (2020). Goods and Services Procurement Manual
  • SC, Save The Children; Procurement guidelines
  • ACF, Action Against Hunger; Supply Chain guidelines
  • PARCEL Project 
  • Humanitarian Logistics Association (HLA) 
  • Core Humanitarian Standard 
  • Universal Logistics Standards in Humanitarian Logistics (ULS) 

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