The United Nations (UN) is a complex system of organizations that support the UN’s primary mandate of maintaining international peace and security. To fulfil this mandate, the UN procures a significant volume of goods and services annually—USD $29.6 billion total in 2022, with $165.62 million being awarded to Canadian suppliers. Canadian firms have primarily found success in consulting services sectors such as transportation, environmental management and construction. In addition, firms have also found success providing goods such as food, pharmaceuticals, electrical systems components, computer equipment and chemicals.
There are eight UN agencies that account for 90 percent of all procurement activities by value which includes:
- UN Secretariat Procurement Division (UNPD)
- UN Development Programme (UNDP)
- World Food Programme (WFP)
- UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF)
- UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS)
- UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
- Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
- UN Population Fund (UNFPA)
The UN and its associated agencies offer many business opportunities for Canadian businesses to work internationally.
Every year, the UN procures a significant volume of goods, works and services to support missions around the world, in every sector from agriculture, education, healthcare to renewable energy. All UN business opportunities are posted on the UN Global Marketplace (UNGM) website for free, and in the Procurement Opportunities link.
Most UN programs are delivered by UN country offices and are often implemented by national authorities in the recipient country. All UN aid is untied and open to Canadian businesses. Procurement within the UN system is governed by established regulations and rules pertaining to each UN organization.
To be considered as a supplier for goods and services, it is necessary to register through the UNGM website. Registration instructions are provided in the Knowledge Centre. The UNGM registry of suppliers is available to all UN organizations, however some maintain their own databases, therefore it is important to register with these agencies as well. The UN supplier code of conduct, expresses the overarching values that the UN expects its suppliers to achieve. UN suppliers are encouraged to get acquainted with these principles and to strive to continuously improve their business practices.
The UN Procurement Practitioner's Handbook (PPH) is a procurement reference document and provides guidance in best procurement practices, processes, and procedures. The UN also has a Tender Alert Service (TAS) which companies can subscribe to and receive updates on projects.
A description of the different levels of registration and the requirements for each level can be found on UNGM.
For links to other UN organizations refer to the Directory of UN System Organizations.
What does the UN buy?
The United Nations procures goods and services from suppliers all over the world to support its activities and operations. In 2022, the total value of procured goods and services reached US$29.6 billion, with Health and Food and Farming being the top two largest sectors within the UN system. The top five sectors accounted for a total of $20.8 billion, or about 70% of the total UN procurement for 2022.
|Total ($ millions)
|Food and Farming
|Construction, Engineering and Science
|Transportation and Storage
|Administration and Operations
|Media, IT, and Communications
|Travel, Accommodation and Catering Services
|Finance, Insurance and Real Estate
|Humanitarian Aid, Peace, Security and Safety
|Other Goods and Services
|Motor Vehicles, Industrial Machinery
|Education, Training and Recreation
|Total ($ millions)
|Pharmaceuticals, Contraceptives, Vaccines
|Food and Beverage Products
|Transportation, Storage, Mail Services
|Management and Admin Services
|Engineering and Research Services
|Building and Maintenance Services
|Medical Equipment and Supplies
|Fuels and Lubricants etc.
|Travel, Food and Lodging
|IT and Communications Equipment
Source: 2022 Annual Statistical Report on UN Procurement
Spotlight on UN agencies
The UN Secretariat Procurement Division (UNPD)
The UN Secretariat Procurement Division is responsible for procurement on behalf of UN Headquarters, offices, peacekeeping missions, and other UN organizations. Their goal is to provide the best value for money in the timely delivery of goods, services and capacity to enable UN missions to execute their work. UN Secretariat procures between $2-4 billion annually, in a variety of sectors such as ICT, air transport, building and construction, catering, real estate, and others.
In 2022, the UN Secretariat procured more than $49.2M from Canadian goods and services suppliers. UN Secretariat business opportunities are published on the UN Global Marketplace UNGM, and registration is required for vendors. Registration is simple and free of charge, and after agreeing to the UN Supplier Code of Conduct and declaration of eligibility, vendors can select the level of business activity that best matches their capacity, financial strength, business scope and commercial strategy.
Firms are also encouraged to review the Doing Business with the UN Secretariat guide.
World Food Programme (WFP)
The World Food Programme (WFP) is the largest humanitarian organization focused on delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. In 2022, WFP assisted 160 million people in over 120 countries and territories with over $6B in procurement of goods and services. WFP’s efforts focus on emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation, development aid and special operations. Two-thirds of WFP’s work is in conflict-affected countries where people are three times more likely to be undernourished than those living in countries without conflict. The WFP procures food, goods and services and arranges the transport of these (from point of sale to final point of distribution). WFP procures a variety of food, including rice, beans, milk, cereal, chickpeas, maize, and others. WFP Procurement Division procures an average of USD$1.8-2.5B in food commodities annually through a competitive, transparent bidding process. WFP business opportunities are posted on the UN Global Marketplace (UNGM) and registration and pre-qualification is required.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the lead agency for international development. UNDP works in 170 countries and territories to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality. UNDP helps countries to develop policies, leadership skills, partnering abilities, institutional capabilities, and to build resilience to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UNDP plays a critical role in fostering collaboration with the private sector at the country level, serving as an interface for UN entities operating on the ground.
UNDP buys goods and services for each of its Country Offices as well as UNDP Headquarters in New York. Responsibility for procurement is decentralized, meaning that the entire procurement cycle – from sourcing to contract management – is done locally. A Country Office’s Resident Representative, or his or her designee, oversees the process. In 2022, UNDP procured $2.83B in goods and services, including $16.3M from Canada.
Examples of Goods and Services procured by UNDP includes:
- Management Information Systems
- Computer Software Licensing & Maintenance
- Office Equipment
- Project Management
- Evaluation Services
- Construction and Engineering Services
- International Local Consultants
Frequently asked questions
How is UN procurement different from international financial institutions (IFI) procurement?
The UN and the IFIs are both committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, but have different operating structures, missions and processes. The IFIs provide concessional financing to developing countries in order to end poverty and promote economic growth. The IFIs work in a variety of sectors like the UN, but have traditionally funded large, infrastructure projects. In general, the Borrowing Member Country is implementing the projects, with oversight and technical support from the IFIs. UN Agencies play a different role, focusing on peacekeeping, humanitarian and emergency relief efforts, among others. In general, UN Agencies procure goods and services on behalf of its recipients.
Also, while UN procurement policies are fairly similar across UN agencies, they are not harmonized like policies that govern the procurement processes of the major IFIs.
To pursue business opportunities does each UN entity have to be contacted individually?
No, because the United Nations Global Marketplace provides a one stop portal and accounts for 95% of the procurement expenditure. Registration is required to view and pursue business opportunities. The UN also a has Tender Alert Service (TAS) that allows firms to keep track of interested opportunities. Firms are encouraged to maintain contact with UN procurement officers in Regional and Country offices to track upcoming opportunities.
How can SMEs get involved in UN funded projects?
The UN system procures on an international basis from vendors of all sizes and in all geographical locations. Sometimes the requirements are large and sometimes small. For this reason, they have different levels of registration and companies can choose the level at which they wish to register based on the size of their company and the size of contract that they are able to manage.
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