Category Archives: Uncategorized

Modern Slavery and Climate Change – Towards an Integrated Approach

Climate change has made millions vulnerable to modern slavery. Displacement and migration because of climate change creates a nexus of harm that pushes people to accept work that actively contributes to environmental destruction of forests, fisheries, waterways and land. Weak regulation and enforcement, corruption, a lack of political will and the lure of profits combined with vulnerability of people creates a vicious circle of opportunity for forced labour, child labour, debt bondage and slavery. In this webinar, speakers explored how an integrated approach to addressing modern slavery, climate change and environmental destruction can lead to impactful interventions by governments, communities, workers and business.

Hosted by: Jenny Stanger, Anti-slavery Taskforce, Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney

Facilitated by: Dr Martijn Boersma, Associate Professor of Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking at University of Notre Dame Australia

Continue reading Modern Slavery and Climate Change – Towards an Integrated Approach

Child Labour in Hyundai’s Supply Chain

The carmaker is facing questions after serious allegations of child labour being used in one of its US subsidiary steel plants. Australia’s Hyundai Motor Company has distanced itself from serious allegations of child labour in its US company’s subsidiary steel plant.

The allegations come after an investigation from Reuters revealed that several children, one as young as 12, have missed school to work at the Korean carmaker’s subsidiary, called SMART Alabama LLC.

According to the Reuters report, local police, three underage children, eight former and current employees of SMART have all said the flagship assembly employed underage staff to work long shifts.

Continue reading Child Labour in Hyundai’s Supply Chain

2SER Radio Interview – The Myth of the Social License to Operate

In this radio interview on 2SER, I discuss the chapter published in the “Research Handbook on the Sociology of Organizations” on “Organizational Legitimacy and Legitimizing Myths.”  It suggests that companies, as an influential and dominant group, want to maintain how they are held to account for their social and environmental impacts, which is through market forces. The research contends that the social license to operate and other concepts such as corporate purpose are hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths that uphold this status quo in favour of companies, at the detriment of society.

The Myth of the Social License to Operate

Over the last two decades many of the world’s largest companies have been involved in scandals, misconduct and dubious ethics. Rather than relying on interventions by public authorities, the dominant governing rationality is informed by the belief that the market is able to balance social, environmental, and financial interests. However, the vast majority of companies that have been involved in ethical transgressions have survived – and have even thrived. Potential damage to the reputation of companies, or threats to their ‘social license to operate’, seems to have had a limited effect. There is therefore reason to believe that market forces are not adequate by themselves to correct corporate misbehaviour.

This chapter from the upcoming ‘Research Handbook on the Sociology of Organizations’ explores the reliance on market forces to correct corporate actions that are not aligned with the common good. It examines to what extent legitimacy theory adequately explains the dynamics around organizational legitimacy, and it proposes an expansion of legitimacy theory to increase its explanatory power: the use of social dominance theory and legitimizing myths expands (organizational) legitimacy as a theoretical construct. In explaining why antagonistic stakeholders continue to rely on market-based approaches, this research suggests that they have either bought into the hierarchy-enhancing myths, or they have not yet developed compelling hierarchy-attenuating myths to challenge the status quo. The chapter concludes with the suggestion that the ‘social license to operate’ and ‘corporate purpose’ are legitimizing myths that uphold the idea that the market can balance social, environmental, and financial interests.

Boersma - Organizational legitimacy and legitimizing myths

Political investorism: Conceptualising the political participation of shareholders and investors

This article establishes a new basis for examining the participation, mobilisation and impact of investors at a time when market-based activism for social change is rising in prominence. Existing terminology describing the expression of political values through investment decisions lacks conceptual clarity. Political participation by shareholders and other investors is variously described as shareholder activism or socially responsible investment, and currently conceptualised under the banner of political consumerism. However, this term fails to capture the unique political role and diverse actions of investors. We put forward ‘political investorism’ as a cohering term for investment-based political participation to remedy existing conceptual confusion, to distinguish between investors and consumers as political actors and to set an agenda for the future study of market-based activism. This article defines and develops the concept of political investorism, drawing upon illustrative cases from Australia to identify hallmarks, actors and tactics of this form of political participation.

O’Brien et al. - 2022 - Political investorism Conceptualising the politic

Consultation on Modern Slavery and Worker Exploitation (New Zealand)

Modern slavery and worker exploitation are severe types of exploitation that can be found both internationally and in New Zealand. To address these behaviours, significant collaboration between government agencies as well as civil society, corporations, trade unions, academics, and international partners is needed.

The New Zealand Government sought feedback on a new law aimed at addressing modern slavery and worker exploitation in New Zealand and around the world. The law would introduce new obligations for organisations with operations and supply chains in New Zealand. Below is a submission made by academics and representatives from civil society that work on modern slavery and labour exploitation.

Consultation on Modern Slavery and Worker Exploitation - Bhakoo, Boersma, McGaughey, Nolan, Sinclair

 

Will Ratification of the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour Make Australia’s Approach to Modern Slavery More Survivor-Centred?

40.3 million people are a victim of modern slavery, 21 million of which are in forced labour.

While these estimates are not uncontentious, recurrent news reports that detail abusive working practices, including modern slavery in Australia and overseas, remind us that this is a real and significant problem.

For example, investigations into the Australian horticultural industry have uncovered a pattern of systemic underpayment and abuse of workers. Similarly, the production of rubber gloves in Malaysia is tainted by exploitative practices, such as excessive recruitment fees, withholding of passport and wages, threats to workers and forced overtime.

In the last four years, the Australian Government has taken steps to address workplace exploitation in the operations and supply chains of Australian companies and this week it ratified the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Protocol on Forced Labour.

With the ratification of the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour, Australia inches closer to making its response to modern slavery more survivor-centred, placing increased emphasis on the rehabilitation and compensation of those that have been exploited.

Continue reading Will Ratification of the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour Make Australia’s Approach to Modern Slavery More Survivor-Centred?

Modern Slavery Should Not Be Weaponised

Modern slavery has become a major talking point in recent years.

Many of us are familiar with the statistics: 40.3 million people are a victim of modern slavery, half of which perform forced labour. While not uncontentious, these figures are now well-known thanks to the advocacy of public figures and politicians.

While the abuses described by the term modern slavery do sadly occur, there are reasons to suggest that modern slavery is being weaponised for political purposes.

The big invisible problem of modern slavery allows the global system of production – and its exploitative features – to continue relatively unopposed, it is a useful tool in trade wars, and it helps to control the borders.

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Paper Promises? Examining Australia’s Modern Slavery Act

Two years into its operation, close to 4,000 statements have now been published on the government’s modern slavery register. Yet the extent to which the legislation is transforming business practices or making a tangible difference to the lives of workers remains highly uncertain. This report analyses 102 company statements published in the first reporting cycle of the MSA, to evaluate how many companies are starting to implement effective measures to address modern slavery and how many are lagging.

This report is part of a two-year collaborative research project by academics and civil society organisations aimed at improving responses to modern slavery and access to remedy for affected workers.

Paper Promises

Modern Slavery and the Employment Relationship: Defining the Continuum of Exploitation

The Special Issue on ‘Modern Slavery and the Employment Relationship: Defining the Continuum of Exploitation’ in the Journal of Industrial Relations is now available online. The Special Issue focuses on what the large- and small-scale risk factors are that can cause working conditions to deteriorate, on how people can become trapped in exploitative conditions, and on what can be done to prevent and remedy labour abuses. Included articles explore the macro-level, specifically by examining global value chains and the labour exploitation within the global production regime and by examining the producer-end (rather than buyer end) of value chains and the responsibilities of companies for working conditions further downstream (rather than upstream) in the value chain. Other articles explore the market-based character of business and human rights regulation. One article concludes that market enforcement of modern slavery regulation is sub-optimal and should include $ penalties and a public regulator while another article asks whether business and human rights regulation originating in the Global North can improve working conditions in the Global South (spoiler: it’s complicated). Articles looking at the micro-level examine labour regimes on factory floors, specifically by examining the influence of the post-Rana Plaza labour governance system on worker outcomes and conditions of employment (hardship remains but less sweatshops) and by documenting the work experiences of Romanian transnational live-in care workers in Austria, where workers gave accounts of having been treated unfairly due to their dependence on placement agencies and employers.

Boersma and Nolan - 2022 - Modern slavery and the employment relationship Ex