The Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) commissioned research to better understand labour issues along the Australian cotton value chain and to recommend strategies for the industry to explore.
Labour conditions for workers in textile and garment value chains remains an area of continuous concern. While Australian cotton enjoys a reputation as a clean, green crop grown under decent working conditions, once the cotton enters global value chains, all visibility is lost, and sustainable value is diminished. Actors throughout the chain, from brands and retailers to manufacturers, to non-governmental organisations, are working tirelessly to address working conditions in a boundary-less system with fragmented governance. Can fibre producers also play a role?
This animation provides an overview the seven solution approaches that were developed as part of a collaborative project between the Queensland University of Technology, the University of Technology Sydney, and the University of Notre Dame Australia.
The project team members: Alice Payne, Erin O’Brien, Rowena Maguire and Justine Coneybeer (Queensland University of Technology), Timo Rissanen and Karina Kallio (University of Technology Sydney), Martijn Boersma (University of Notre Dame Australia).
Ten years ago, the garment industry’s worst industrial accident – the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh – killed more than 1,100 workers and highlighted the travesty of conditions for millions of garment workers globally.
It spurred action to address exploitation, but for many workers little has changed.
Just in the past few months, Britain’s Tesco supermarket chain has been accused of profiting from the “effective forced labour” of workers in Thailand (making Tesco-brand jeans), while the world’s biggest clothing retailer, China’s fast-fashion brand Shein, has been exposed for rampant human rights abuses.
Such incidents are meant to have been eliminated, as big brands are supposed to leverage their power to effect change in global supply chains. Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, for example, requires companies with more than A$100 million in annual revenue to publicly report on their efforts to ensure their supply chains are free of labour exploitation.
The expectation has been that pressure from consumers and investors will be enough for retailers (who profit the most from driving down production costs) to drive change. Campaigners for better conditions say these requirements are all too often a “fig leaf”, because audits can easily be fudged.
Limited attention has been given to what suppliers can do to ensure their products aren’t associated with exploitation.
If people are serious about ending modern-day slavery, consumers need to be prepared to pay more and companies must be prepared for a drop in profits, while governments must pass unpopular legislation, a professor of law at the Catholic University of America has warned.
Professor Mary Graw Leary is a founding director of the Bakhita Initiative for the study and disruption of modern-day slavery.
In her address to The Tablet webinar, “From local to global: best practice in fighting modern slavery and human trafficking”, sponsored by the University of Notre Dame Australia, she acknowledged that “great strides” have been made in fighting modern slavery and human trafficking in a fairly short period of time.
In November I was part of a panel of experts that discussed forced organ transplants in the context of medical ethics, business and human rights implications, modern slavery obligations for Australian businesses, the United Nations’ human rights treaties and mechanisms, and Australia’s responsibility to protect and promote human rights.
Footage of this event held at New South Wales Parliament House can be found below. The section on Business and Human Rights starts at 55:00.
Multistakeholder initiatives are often heralded as a solution to many social and environmental issues. Yet, due to their composition, these initiatives are not without tensions and challenges. This paper examines which factors determine the (il)legitimacy of multistakeholder initiatives in the context of efforts to remediate child labor.
Child labor in global supply chains is increasingly addressed through multistakeholder initiatives. However, the participation of stakeholders with distinct views and interests can generate tensions. Based on interviews with civil society actors, this research finds that tensions exist between the normative‐ethical and political‐strategic dimensions of multistakeholder initiatives, which are manifest in the existence of international and national norms and their contextual application, in definitions of child labor, risk and responsibility, and in doubts about corporate incentives to join multistakeholder initiatives. In addition, tensions exist concerning the effectiveness of supply chain auditing, enabling broader labor rights as a means to remediate child labor, and whether standards need to be mandatory or self‐regulation suffices. The success of collaboration depends on the effective navigation of these tensions. Failure to do so can undermine the legitimacy of multistakeholder initiatives from the perspective of civil society actors. The research finds that due diligence, in the shape of human rights risk assessments, is not subject to normative‐ethical/political‐strategic tensions, and can play a key role in the success of multistakeholder initiatives and the fight against child labor.
My latest research finds that effective approaches to child labour in global supply chains are characterised by companies engaging with a broad range of stakeholders, taking a contextual and holistic approach by considering local circumstances and broader human rights, and by focusing on prevention and remediation. By shifting from code of conduct and auditing based approaches towards stakeholder collaboration and due diligence, companies are moving away from reactive and paternalistic approaches to child labour and instead increasingly adopt proactive and pluralistic strategies. The influence of the UNGPs has the potential to ameliorate some the tensions in multi-stakeholder partnerships by requiring companies to be first movers and using this advantage to include stakeholders rather than exclude them in developing CSR strategies. While these developments can help to elevate child labourers from latent and discretionary stakeholders to expectant and dependent stakeholders, they continue to rely on CSOs to add weight to their claims.