News - October 4, 2012

Toilet supplies: a bum deal

A dispute with a rejected toilet paper supplier has led Wageningen UR to reopen the whole bidding process. The things you have to do to avoid getting a bum deal.

'A mistake. A typo.' Annet de Haas, head of Location Facilities, can identify exactly where things went wrong. Wageningen UR was looking for a new supplier of toilet paper and paper towels. A huge multi-tonne order, and so it had to be subject to a Europe-wide call for bids. The mistake she is referring to was in the procurement requirement: the paper needed to be 0.3 mm thick. 'But that number was not correct. All of the potential suppliers, six in total, therefore submitted tenders with thinner paper, around 0.23 mm.'
 That was fine, and Wageningen UR made a choice: CSU got the order.  This seemed to have settled the matter, until one of the rejected candidates, King, decided to take the case to court. The company claimed the faulty specification prevented them from getting a fair chance in the competition. Wageningen UR, realising that the process had been flawed, decided to start again from scratch with a new call for tenders to give King a fair chance. But King pressed on with the court case regardless. To no avail. The judge ruled against them, in large part because King themselves had not submitted an offer with 3 mm paper.
 Annet de Haas looks back on the whole episode with mixed feelings. The court case was won, but only after a lot of legal effort. Besides, the whole tender process now has to be gone through all over again: a load of work they could do without. 'And what have we gained from it all?' The thickness requirement has been dropped from the new tender. 'We are now asking for a quality equal to or better than the current paper, to be evaluated by a test panel', she explains. 'But it does have to be affordable, and you want the best paper, not a bum deal and... what? Oh, yes, I see the pun. I imagine you're going to put that one in.'