Some commentators have suggested that foreign companies that (in)directly profit from the systematic exploitation of Uyghurs in China must choose between profit and principle.
It seems like a straightforward question: do companies want to profit from the state-organised repression, exploitation and extermination of an ethnic minority, or do companies condemn the treatment of Uyghur people in China and deal with the backlash?
The conundrum underlying the question is as old as capitalism itself: what social costs are we willing to accept in order for companies to make a profit?
The question solicited many responses: some described the character of the CEOs, others mentioned the wages and taxes paid (or not paid) by each company, while yet other Twitter users cited the labour conditions experienced by workers at these companies.
These factors may or may not influence whether you buy from Harvey Norman or Amazon, but they aren’t issues that help to answer the moral question. As a matter of fact, the question whether to buy from Harvey Norman or Amazon arguably isn’t a moral one at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important that people ask themselves questions such as these, but this specific question is a not a moral one: rather, it is an ethical question, the answer to which is informed by your values.
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.
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 cleaning industry has come under scrutiny for being at risk of modern slavery in a new book which draws links between consumers, business and government, and an estimated 40 million people who are modern-day slaves.
Addressing Modern Slavery explains the global conditions that have allowed slavery to thrive to the point “where there are more slaves today than ever before in human history”.
Authors Associate Professor Justine Nolan from UNSW Sydney and Dr Martijn Boersma from UTS describe well-known examples from overseas, such as women in apparel sweatshops and children in brick kilns – but also examples that are closer to home.
The authors include a submission from a former cleaner to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia who noted exploitation in the cleaning industry is very common.
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.
Nearly three-quarters of the world’s hazelnuts come from Turkey and the biggest buyer is Ferrero, maker of Nutella, the chocolate and hazelnut spread. But the nuts are picked mainly by migrants, including children, who work long hours for very low pay. What is Ferrero doing to ensure its products do not depend on child labour?
In new our book “Addressing Modern Slavery“, we talk about Turkey, hazelnuts and Ferrero: “As Turkey’s Labour Code does not apply to farms with fewer than 50 employees, the state has effectively removed itself from policing this problem. Monitoring of working conditions and ensuring payment of wages is left to companies like Ferrero – a privately held company that is the third largest chocolate maker in the world – which refuses to disclose information about its supply chain” (p177 ).