WMA Declaration on Fair Trade in Medical Products and Devices

Adopted by the 68th General Assembly, Chicago, United States, October 2017


1.     Every year trillions of dollars are spent on medical supplies globally. Little consideration is given to the conditions in which they are made, nor to the impact on the people who make them.

2.     Abuses of labour standards, evidence of modern slavery, and unethical working conditions have been uncovered in the manufacture of many medical products bound for health systems around the world. Evidence shows that many supplies used in the healthcare sector are produced in unhealthy, unsafe and unfair working conditions. Widescale abuses have been reported in numerous manufacturing sites – from uniforms, to latex gloves, to disposable surgical instruments – international labour core conventions are persistently disregarded, and the use of child labour is widespread.

3.     The global healthcare community should not condone unethical trade practices that are detrimental to global health and encourage modern slavery. Healthcare organisations and professionals around the world must insist that the goods they use are not produced at the expense of the health of workers in the global community.

4.     It is important to maintain trading with developing countries to ensure jobs and livelihoods, and commitment to the UN sustainable development goals. These goals provide an overarching opportunity for sustained action to be taken by health professionals in protecting human health globally.

5.     As enshrined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights (June 2011) – applicable to all States- businesses have a responsibility to minimise human rights violations in their supply and procurement chains, irrespective of whether the business contributed directly to the violation, and a duty to adequately address any abuses that do occur.

6.     Introduction of fair and ethical trade in health service purchasing should be used to secure improvement in the health system supply chains. Modern approaches to addressing labour rights abuses focus on models of ‘ethical procurement’.

7.     Ethical procurement refers to the steps that purchasing organisations, such as hospitals, take to improve the pay and conditions of people involved in the supply of goods and services. It asks purchasers to systematically assess the risk of labour rights abuses in the goods they procure, and to push for improvement where necessary. This includes working with companies throughout the supply chain to help workers exercise fundamental rights such as the right to safe and decent working conditions. This model aims to make international trade work better for poor and otherwise disadvantaged people.


8.     Recognizing this, the World Medical Association and its national medical association members on behalf of their physician members, support and commit to the following actions:

  • Call upon purchasing bodies, to develop a fair and ethical purchasing policy for medical goods to promote good working conditions and eradicate modern slavery throughout the supply chains of the products purchased within the health sector.
  • Promote multiple health product production sources throughout the world.

National medical associations

9.     National medical associations should advocate for labour/ human rights to be protected throughout the global supply chains of products used in their healthcare systems.

10.  National medical associations should work with their members to promote fair and ethical trade in the health sector.

11.  National medical associations should support community action and initiatives with to promote ethical working conditions across the health sector as a whole.

12.  National medical associations should harness government support to formulate national guidance and/or policy on fair and ethical trade in healthcare purchasing.


13.  Physicians should play a leadership role in integrating considerations of labour standards into purchasing decisions within healthcare organisations.

14.  Physicians should raise awareness of the issues, and promote the development of fair and ethically produced medical goods, amongst colleagues and those working with health systems.

Child Labour, Ethical procurement, Fair trade, Modern slavery, Social Determinants of Health, Sustainable Development Goals

WMA Statement on Primary Health Care

Adopted by the 74th WMA General Assembly, Kigali, Rwanda, Octobe...