The COVID-19 coronavirus is officially a pandemic, the US and Australian share markets have collapsed, both governments have unveiled stimulus packages, and Australia’s trade union movement is worried about the position of casuals. But things are worse overseas, including for the workers who make products for Australians.
20,000 garment workers in Cambodia face job losses from factory closures because of shortages of raw materials from China and reduced orders from buyers in the virus-affected locations including the United States and Europe. Thousands have already lost their jobs in Myanmar. Garment workers in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are uncertain of their futures.
The Queensland University of Technology and the University of Technology Sydney have been funded by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation to research “Strategies for improving labour conditions within the Australian cotton value chain” (2019-2022).
Non-Government Organisations are active in pressuring fashion brands to be accountable for their social and environmental claims. Labour is currently in the spotlight. Over 20 million employees in garment manufacturing in Asia Pacific are paid below the minimum wage. ILO ratification in Australia’s export countries is low and non-compliance high (up to 90%). This project will provide information to enable the cotton industry to understand labour issues along its value chain and recommend strategies for the industry to explore.
Phase 1 produced a heat map, based on secondary data, which provides an overview of labour issues affecting the textile and apparel industry in primary export destinations in the Australian cotton value chain. Click on the image below to see the full interactive heat maps which were created using Tableau.
Underpayment is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue in Australia, with certain industries and sub-sets of workers more affected than others. Given the increasing prevalence of wage theft, workers can become resigned to accept employment below the minimum wage due to expectations that underpayment is unavoidable. While the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) plays a key role in identifying and rectifying underpayments, increased funding is required to allow it to effectively uncover breaches. Both mandatory and voluntary supply chain measures can play a key role to help target the issue of underpayment. Our submission recommends new legislation be passed to better regulate labour standards and the gig economy, strengthening enforcement of existing regulations.
This week an already impressive list of wage theft offenders has gotten a bit longer.
On Monday, the likes of Caltex, 7-Eleven, Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza and Bunnings (to name a few), were joined by Coles, which underpaid its staff $20 million over six years.
On Wednesday, Target admitted to underpaying workers about $9 million.
On Thursday, Super Retail Group – whose brands include Rebel and Super Cheap Auto, said that it had short-changed workers by $8 million more than it had originally estimated, bringing the total to $61.2 million.
On Friday, cleaning and catering company Spotless admitted to underpaying workers $4 million.
The total wage theft uncovered this week: $94.2 million.
Last week has seen the list of wage theft offenders get longer. Overall, the total wage theft revealed last week summed up to 94.2 million dollars. According to PwC, Australian workers are underpaid 1.35 billion dollars each year – that means that 1 out of 7 workers aren’t getting their wages, as well as superannuation, overtime, and entitlements like properly paid sick leave. Despite the statistics and companies being called out for wage theft, we’ve seen this issue continue. Which begs the question – why? To dive deep into this issue, I spoke to The Daily on 2SER.
The Australian Government is developing a National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020‑24, which builds on Australia’s current efforts under the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery 2015-2019. The Government published a Consultation Paper and provided the business community, civil society and academia to help co-design a 2020-24 Plan that will drive Australia’s efforts to combat modern slavery over the next five years. The submission by Justine Nolan and myself can be found below.
Our key recommendations:
The Government should bolster the Modern Slavery Act by introducing sanctions for non-compliance, mandate and provide guidance on human rights due diligence and by creating the post of National Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner;
The Government should “name and shame” entities that do not comply with the Modern Slavery Act, as well as entities that are found to have modern slavery in their supply chain;
The Government should update its procurement policies to follow international best-practice, and provide additional training to procurement officers;
The Government should leverage the impact of public spending by creating a procurement connected policy concerning modern slavery;
The Government should prepare for an increase in modern slavery survivors being referred to authorities by creating adequate support structures based on international best practice;
The Government should include two additional goals which focus on the nexus between climate change and gender with modern slavery.
The Government should facilitate the creation of decent jobs, address wage theft, remove barriers for organised labour, and increase resources for the Fair Work Ombudsman;
The Government should create an anti-slavery helpline and geographically plot calls to reveal hotspots across Australia.
“Does our globalised economy rely on the exploitation of the vulnerable? Are we, as consumers, an intrinsic part of chains of supply and complicity that keep 40 million people enslaved? Justine Nolan and Martijn Boersma wrote Addressing Modern Slavery to define and dissect a phenomenon we think of as remote but is more prevalent than at any time in human history. Based on years of forensic research, this impressive book is mandatory reading for anyone committed to ending exploitation and the scourge of modern slavery.”
Justine Nolan and myself will be at the Adelaide Writers’ Week on Saturday 29 February, appearing at the West Stage at 12pm. The full program can be found below.
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AO QC Governor of New South Wales spoke at the annual Charteris Dinner and Oration, which marked the 95th anniversary of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, on Wednesday 27 November 2019.
The Governor referred to the book “Addressing Modern Slavery” a dozen times.
A full transcript of the speech can be found below.