Tag Archives: governance

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.

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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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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

Research Article: Making sense of Downstream Labour risk in Global Value Chains

While the efforts by actors on the buyer-side of value chains – such as brands and retailers – to address upstream labour abuses are well documented, there is a lack of research into how actors on the production-side of value chains – such as raw material producers – can identify and address downstream labour risks. This research presents the findings of an action research project that focused on the Australian cotton industry. By applying a sense-making lens, we propose four properties that can be used to identify labour risk in global value chains, providing insights into the capacity of producers to address downstream labour abuses. We suggest that there is a possibility for a ‘book-end’ approach that combines upstream and downstream actions by buyers and producers in global value chains.

The article can be found on the Journal of Industrial Relations website.

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Why do Companies Find it so Hard to Choose Between Profit and Principle?

Businesses with ties to the Xinjiang province in China find themselves at a junction.

Caught in debates concerning Uyghur people being the victim of modern slavery and genocide, they must deal with concerns expressed by Western governments and human rights groups, and an increasingly agitated Chinese Communist Party.

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?

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New book reveals modern slavery is all around us

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It’s estimated that 40.3 million people are enslaved around the world.

For many Australians, the concept of modern-day slavery may seem implausible. But it’s estimated that 40.3 million people are enslaved around the world, more than ever before in human history.

The Global Slavery Index estimates 15,000 people were living in modern slavery in Australia in 2018.

Addressing Modern Slavery examines how consumers, business and government can help eradicate one of the big challenges of our time.

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How can a Bank Win a Sustainability Award While Funding a Coalmine?

Westpac was named the most sustainable company in the world in 2014, and the most sustainable bank in the world for the 10th time in 2017, an honour previously bestowed on ANZ six times in seven years.

Commonwealth Bank and NAB have likewise been recognised as the most sustainable business in Australia and a global industry leader in sustainability respectively.

Glossy sustainability reports with images of hands cradlings sprouting plants illustrate this carefully cultivated image of responsible corporate citizenship.

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Best and Worst Companies for Women on Boards Revealed

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Medibank Private, Mirvac Group, DUET Group, Spark Infrastructure and Woolworths are among the top ASX 100 companies for appointing women to boards, a new report says.

Some of the worst in the same index include TPG Telecom and Qube Holdings, with no female board members. Westfield had one woman on its board out of 12 spots and Oil Search has one out of nine, the Catalyst think tank report released on Tuesday shows.

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Companies Prefer Ticking Boxes to Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Research shows when there are three women on a board, as opposed to one, they are seen as individuals rather than the “female voice”. Image: Shutterstock
Research shows when there are three women on a board, as opposed to one, they are seen as individuals rather than the “female voice”. Image: Shutterstock

“Empowerment of the world’s women is a global imperative,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the 2016 World Economic Forum. Although the worldwide trend to promote equal opportunities has also impacted Australia, progress in the corporate world is slow and a change in pace is required. Improving disclosures is a good place to start.

In 2010, the ASX Corporate Governance Council made several amendments to its Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations. The most prominent change was that companies should publicly disclose the number of female directors, senior managers and total number of women in the workforce, as well as progress against diversity objectives established by the board.

New research by Catalyst Australia finds that ASX50 listed companies – Australia’s largest companies and industry leaders – tick all the gender reporting boxes. But while some progress is made concerning women on boards, facilitating the career advancement of women into executive positions remains a problem area.

Likewise, while ASX50 companies do refer to pay equity, our research finds their disclosures are limited and often do not include figures for management or the workforce.

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A Critical Analysis of Sustainable Finance

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This paper seeks to assess how the international banking community is building sustainability into corporate strategies; how effectively these strategies are being implemented; how sustainability is being embedded into key business processes and decisions; and how sustainability principles are reflected in reporting. It presents an assessment of the sustainability performance of banks using a range of frequently used indicators, while also scrutinizing the indicators by examining the extent to which they effectively measure the performance and commitments of banks. While many banks achieve high scores on these indicators, there is evidence that there are significant flaws which are not adequately addressed.

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