This study examines how the risk of labour standards noncompliance can be rendered calculable and commensurable through a market device. We present a case study of the Cleaning Accountability Framework (CAF), an industry certification scheme, which seeks to address labour exploitation in the Australian contract cleaning industry. We pay particular attention to the central device of the certification scheme – the pricing schedule. We examine how the pricing schedule shaped the calculative space informing contracting parties during the procurement process. In doing so, the pricing schedule increased transparency around the potential risk of labour standards noncompliance. The nature of this transparency and the perceived objectivity of the pricing schedule acted to reshape the market for contract cleaning, resulting in a redistribution of accountability for labour exploitation. We also examine how the pricing schedule formed part of a wider framework of accountability, and how these mechanisms enabled strategic co-enforcement of labour standards compliance by supply chain stakeholders. Overall, our study indicates the potential for accounting practices to play a more active role in shaping how markets address modern slavery risks.
There is now an expanding body of literature on the significant problem of business non-compliance with minimum labour standards including ‘wage theft’. Extended liability regulation beyond the direct employer is seen as one solution to this non-compliance in fragmented but hierarchically organised industries—such as the cleaning industry. This article uses empirical evidence to assess the effectiveness of one such regulatory scheme, the Cleaning Accountability Framework (CAF), in addressing non-compliance with minimum labour standards (including provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and the Cleaning Services Award 2020). We find that CAF has been successful in identifying and rectifying certain non-compliance, improving working conditions for some cleaners involved in the scheme. We synthesise the key success factors of CAF in view of envisioning the adoption of such co-regulation frameworks in other industries. We also propose legal reforms that will support change across the cleaning industry.
The article was published in the Federal Law Review.
The cleaning industry has long had a reputation for exploiting workers, as cut-throat competition delivers contracts with profit margins so thin there’s little room to pay cleaners their legal entitlements.
The Cleaning Accountability Framework, with the help of a group of business, law and IT researchers, is making inroads into what has seemed at times an intractable problem.
Dr Martijn Boersma, who lectures in industrial relations and business ethics at the University of Technology Sydney Business School, has been working with CAF and says non-compliance with labour standards has been a big issue in the cleaning industry.