Purpose – The purpose of the paper is to explore the factors that drive or hinder organisations to implement socially responsible purchasing. Design/methodology/approach – A literature analysis is complemented with empirical data from interviews with 20 private and public Swedish organisations. Findings – The findings from the literature analysis are compared with findings from Swedish organisations. The study finds that in Swedish organisations, the main drivers for socially responsible purchasing include stakeholder influence and organisational values, media and NGOs' attention and employees' concern. The main barriers are a lack of resources for supplier audits, difficulties to ensure that all suppliers fulfil the code of conduct, differences in culture and management style, low levels of social standards and high levels of corruption in some countries of supply, all of which makes assurance practices a very costly enterprise. Research limitations/implications – Future research could compare socially responsible purchasing (SRP) practices of focal organisations from different countries and deepen the understanding of contextual factors that shape responses of suppliers situated in different regions. Practical implications – Although exploratory in nature, this study assists managers and public procurers with a greater understanding of the drivers and barriers of socially responsible purchasing, as well as of success factors for integrating social aspects into purchasing practices. Originality/value – The paper contributes to the limited body of literature on the drivers and barriers for organisations to initiate and maintain the work on socially responsible purchasing.