Tag Archives: labour standards

Why Australia Needs an Anti-Slavery Commissioner

Last week, a 47-year-old Queensland man was charged with 46 offences, including torturing and enslaving deckhands on his fishing boats.

The accused allegedly intimidated and attacked his employees, and withheld food and water. He will appear in court next month.

Australia is estimated to have 41,000 people trapped in modern slavery. People can be subjected to modern slavery through coercion, deception and violence. This includes acts such as grooming, wage theft and restriction of movement.

In Australian and international law slavery is defined as:

the condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.

Modern slavery is distinct from historical slavery in that people are no longer legally owned but are instead subjected to illegal control.

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Modern Slavery Good Practice Toolkit

The final instalment of a research series jointly conducted by nine academic and civil society organisations has been made publicly available. The publication, known as the Good Practice Toolkit, offers businesses crucial insights into human rights due diligence and ways to amplify their compliance with Australia’s Modern Slavery Act (MSA).

Drawing upon data collected over several years, the toolkit examines corporate responses to the MSA and their engagement in human rights due diligence. It zeroes in on two notably weak facets of business practice: stakeholder engagement and supplier relations.

The Toolkit’s main recommendations are:

  • Prioritise suppliers with demonstrated respect for human rights.
  • Work in partnership with suppliers in designing and communicating expectations.
  • Conduct meaningful and sustained engagement with workers and their representatives.
  • Engage with relevant stakeholders in the design of policies.
  • Use effective grievance mechanisms as an engagement tool.

The Australian Human Rights Institute (UNSW Sydney), Business and Human Rights Centre (RMIT), the University of Melbourne, the University of Notre Dame Australia, the University of Western Australia and Willamette University, in association with the Human Rights Law Centre, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and Baptist World Aid, conducted this research. It follows earlier reports, ‘Australia’s Modern Slavery Act: Is It Fit For Purpose?’, ‘Broken Promises’ , and ‘Paper Promises’ .

Strategies for Improving Labour Conditions within the Australian Cotton Value Chain

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).

The various outputs developed as part of the project can be found here.

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.

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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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.

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.

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.