Tag Archives: exploitation

What can Australian Cotton Farmers do to Protect Garment Workers?

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.

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Broken Promises: business failure on modern slavery

A new report, Broken Promises: Two years of corporate reporting under Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, examines the second year of corporate statements submitted to the Government’s Modern Slavery Register by 92 companies sourcing from four sectors with known risks of modern slavery: garments from China, rubber gloves from Malaysia, seafood from Thailand and fresh produce from Australia.

It finds that:

  • 66% of companies reviewed (down from 77% in the first year) are still failing to comply with the basic reporting requirements mandated by the legislation, with some companies not submitting reports at all;
  • Over half (56%) of the commitments made by companies in the first year of reporting to improve their modern slavery response remained unfulfilled based on their second year statements;
  • 43% of companies reviewed (down from 52% in the first year) are still failing to identify obvious modern slavery risks in their supply chains;
  • There is a mere 6% increase in the number of companies appearing to be taking some form of effective action to address modern slavery risks, with two in three companies still failing to act.

Seafood, rubber gloves, oranges: tainted by modern slavery?

If your clothes are made in China, rubber gloves from Malaysia and seafood sourced from Thailand, researchers are warning you may be at risk of supporting modern slavery practices.

Those were identified as the sectors with the highest risk of modern slavery in a new report, produced by a coalition of human rights organisations and academics.

And despite previous warnings of the risks to Australian companies sourcing these products, little has changed to improve the risks.

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Muslim countries vote down UN Human Rights Council Xinjiang debate

Uyghur Australians have condemned Muslim-majority member countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council for voting down a debate on allegations of human rights abuses against minorities, including Muslims and Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China.

Among the 19 members who voted against the debate were Pakistan, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Australian resident and exiled Uyghur, Arslan Hidayat, described it as another “stab in the back” — singling out the votes from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, both Turkic countries with historical connections to the Uyghur community.

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Using Market Devices to Address Labour Abuses

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.

Pandemic Disruption of the Textile and Apparel Value Chain

The COVID-19 pandemic disruption has had a significant impact on the textile and apparel value chain, particularly on garment workers in the Global South. The disruption caused by the pandemic has raised questions about global justice and responsibility for these workers. This briefing paper investigates how the Australian cotton industry can influence working conditions along the textile and apparel value chain, and provides a detailed summary of the context surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on the textile and apparel value chain.

The  pandemic had a calamitous effect on the lives of garment workers in the Global South. Women make up 80% of the labor force in the textile and apparel value chain, meaning that they have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in the sector. Migrant workers are important to the global textile labor force, and the exploitation of migrant workers has been an ongoing concern. The effects of COVID-19 are ongoing, and many countries are experiencing surges, different variants, and returns to lockdown, putting garment workers economically, socially, and medically at risk.

Global activism campaigns have sought to mobilise support and ignite corporate accountability. The #PayUp campaign, for example, urged consumers to hold brands accountable for paying their workers despite canceling orders. Large corporations canceling their orders had a dramatic effect on household income, leading to an increase in malnutrition and homelessness. The loss of jobs in apparel manufacturing was caused by several factors and continues to have a ripple effect on the longer-term economic security of workers.

As well as responding to the events of the pandemic, many actors are ‘future proofing’ their supply chains. The disrupted access to materials and political tensions will give some countries a notable advantage for export competitiveness. The global push for some textile industries in the Global North to ‘re-shore’ production has become a topical issue in recent policy debates. Responses to the problems faced by garment workers have focused on potential points of leverage at the endpoint of the value chain. Overall, the supply chain disruptions of the pandemic spotlight the need for stakeholders to work collaboratively to protect worker well-being.

UN report on China’s abuse of Uyghurs: What Should Australia Do in Reponse?

For three years, Sadam Abdusalam watched his newborn grow into a toddler through the screen of a mobile phone. He was thousands of kilometres away in Australia, and his son Lufti and his wife Nadila were stuck in China’s Xinjiang province, unable to leave.

A Uyghur originally from Xinjiang, Mr Abdusalam was separated from his family for three years after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seized Nadila’s passport in 2017. He said the CCP began taking “as many” Uyghurs’ passports as they could in that year.

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Modern Slavery Risks in the Cleaning and Security Industry

This briefing session brings together academic experts in the fields of modern slavery, labour law compliance, supply chain due diligence and temporary migrant workers, to share insights and advice on how universities can demonstrate leadership in promoting good labour practices. The aim of this briefing is to assist relevant stakeholders in the higher education sector to understand their role in promoting good labour practices, and provide guidance on practically how to do this. This briefing is aimed at professionals working in university procurement and contract management, university modern slavery working groups, university risk and compliance, cleaning and security contractors that currently hold contracts at university campuses.

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Why a degree in modern slavery is a valuable addition to your CV

Modern slavery may seem a distant issue in Australia, but a new course will teach graduates why an understanding of it is increasingly important in every business

It might be easy to imagine, especially in Australia, that slavery is a thing of the past. But an estimated 15,000 people were living in conditions of modern slavery here in 2016, through forced marriage and labour, sexual exploitation, debt bondage and human trafficking – exploitation that disproportionately affects women, children, asylum seekers and migrants. Globally, in that same year, 40.3 million victims were being abused.

Martijn Boersma is an associate professor of human trafficking and modern slavery at the University of Notre Dame Australia, where a new course aims to provide the skills and knowledge that will enable people to work proactively to put an end to the exploitation of vulnerable people.

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