Following the United Kingdom in 2015, Australia introduced its Modern Slavery Act in 2018. The Government produced guidance documents to recognise that modern slavery sits on a continuum of exploitation and should not be addressed in isolation. It acknowledges that there is a spectrum of abuse and that it is not always clear at what point poor working practices and lack of health and safety awareness seep into instances of human trafficking, slavery or forced labour. The overarching aim of this special issue is to examine how exactly employment relationships can deteriorate into forms of labour exploitation and modern slavery. We set out to identify the key factors contributing to this process, to determine what approaches can reduce the risk of labour abuses occurring, and to discern novel ways to remediate exploitation once identified. We aim to create a better understanding of modern slavery and the employment relationship by establishing how and why workers may move along the continuum of labour exploitation.
25/09/2020 – Submission of abstracts to the guest editors
12/10/2020 – Confirmation/acceptance of abstract and invitation to submit full paper
31/01/ 2021 – Full paper submission for presentation at Symposium
02/2021 – Symposium in Sydney – alternatively a virtual symposium will be held
01/03/2021 – Full original papers to be submitted online to the JIR for peer review
28/10/2021 – Accepted papers to be finalised/submitted online to the JIR
Prominent Australian retailers been caught out again for “unsavoury” behaviour during the coronavirus pandemic – including asking for discounts and pushing back orders from struggling suppliers overseas.
Kmart has backflipped on its request for a 30 per cent discount it forced on its Bangladeshi suppliers, but is still enforcing tight turnarounds.
Mosaic Brands, which owns Crossroads, Millers, Noni B and more, has told its suppliers, also in Bangladesh, that it won’t be meeting some of its payments for eight months, according to the ABC.
Mosaic was called out early in the pandemic for its pushy sales techniques, peddling hand sanitiser and face masks to shoppers to capitalise on the panic-buying surge.
The behaviour is nothing short of bullying, business ethics expert Martijn Boersma said.
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.
Earlier this year Justine Nolan, Laurie Berg and myself supported a shareholder resolution filed by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, which was heard at the Coles Annual General Meeting on 13 November 2019.
The resolution asking the supermarket to reassess its supply chain policies to reduce reliance on third-party audits, and to consult more with unions. At the meeting, workers from the supermarket’s farmer suppliers challenged Coles’ executives over its ethical sourcing policy, asking the retailer to work with unions to ensure workers are fairly treated and paid. The resolution was supported by 12.8 per cent of shareholders.
Coles recently signed memorandum of understanding with three major Australian unions as a sign of the retailer’s willingness to work with unions. Unfortunately this does not include the National Union of Workers (who recently merged with United Voice to form the United Workers Union). This is a missed opportunity for Coles to embrace Worker-Driven Social Responsibility.
The open letter to Coles and Woolworths was covered by the New Daily and the supermarkets have written a response to our letter. The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), who have been engaging both supermarkets since 2017, have prepared a response to the supermarkets. You can find the response here:
Justine Nolan, Laurie Berg and Martijn Boersma have supported a shareholder resolution by ACCR that will be heard at the Coles AGM on the 13th November 2019. You can help by calling on UniSuper to support the resolution. All you need to do is send them a message here. You can use the sample text below, copy and paste, or write your own.
When the Bill that became the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) was introduced into the federal parliament, it was accompanied by a grim message: two centuries after the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom, it is estimated that there are twenty-five million victims of modern slavery worldwide. It also came with a bracing if Panglossian promise: that the Modern Slavery Act would ‘transform’ the way large companies in Australia do business, and drive a ‘race to the top’. Published a year after the introduction of this legislation, Addressing Modern Slavery is a timely reflection on the pervasiveness of modern slavery in global supply chains – and on the role of the state, business, and other actors in combating this serious and complex problem.
Companies often talk about being on a human rights ‘journey’; a long and winding course with many stops along the way. On the other hand, they are never on a ‘journey’ to profit – this tends to happen as quickly as possible. Given that Big Business has long been accused of paying lip service to its social responsibilities, the statement signed last month by virtually all the members of the US Business Roundtable, has caused quite a stir.
Their statement on the purpose of a corporation talks about dealing fairly and ethically with suppliers, supporting the communities in which they work and respecting people and the environment by embracing sustainable practices. It also highlights that the signatory companies, including Amazon, Ford and JP Morgan, ‘are committed to transparency’.
However, global supply chains are anything but transparent; today there are more than 21 million people around the world trapped in forced labour, most of whom produce goods for consumers around the globe.