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.
The carmaker is facing questions after serious allegations of child labour being used in one of its US subsidiary steel plants. Australia’s Hyundai Motor Company has distanced itself from serious allegations of child labour in its US company’s subsidiary steel plant.
The allegations come after an investigation from Reuters revealed that several children, one as young as 12, have missed school to work at the Korean carmaker’s subsidiary, called SMART Alabama LLC.
According to the Reuters report, local police, three underage children, eight former and current employees of SMART have all said the flagship assembly employed underage staff to work long shifts.
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.
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?
The Queensland University of Technology and the University of Technology Sydney have been funded by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation to research “Strategies for improving labour conditions within the Australian cotton value chain” (2019-2022).
Non-Government Organisations are active in pressuring fashion brands to be accountable for their social and environmental claims. Labour is currently in the spotlight. Over 20 million employees in garment manufacturing in Asia Pacific are paid below the minimum wage. ILO ratification in Australia’s export countries is low and non-compliance high (up to 90%). This project will provide information to enable the cotton industry to understand labour issues along its value chain and recommend strategies for the industry to explore.
Phase 1 produced a heat map, based on secondary data, which provides an overview of labour issues affecting the textile and apparel industry in primary export destinations in the Australian cotton value chain. Click on the image below to see the full interactive heat maps which were created using Tableau.
Underpayment is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue in Australia, with certain industries and sub-sets of workers more affected than others. Given the increasing prevalence of wage theft, workers can become resigned to accept employment below the minimum wage due to expectations that underpayment is unavoidable. While the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) plays a key role in identifying and rectifying underpayments, increased funding is required to allow it to effectively uncover breaches. Both mandatory and voluntary supply chain measures can play a key role to help target the issue of underpayment. Our submission recommends new legislation be passed to better regulate labour standards and the gig economy, strengthening enforcement of existing regulations.
This week an already impressive list of wage theft offenders has gotten a bit longer.
On Monday, the likes of Caltex, 7-Eleven, Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza and Bunnings (to name a few), were joined by Coles, which underpaid its staff $20 million over six years.
On Wednesday, Target admitted to underpaying workers about $9 million.
On Thursday, Super Retail Group – whose brands include Rebel and Super Cheap Auto, said that it had short-changed workers by $8 million more than it had originally estimated, bringing the total to $61.2 million.
On Friday, cleaning and catering company Spotless admitted to underpaying workers $4 million.
The total wage theft uncovered this week: $94.2 million.
The open letter to Coles and Woolworths was covered by the New Daily and the supermarkets have written a response to our letter. The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), who have been engaging both supermarkets since 2017, have prepared a response to the supermarkets. You can find the response here:
What’s next? A Shareholder Resolution!
Justine Nolan, Laurie Berg and Martijn Boersma have supported a shareholder resolution by ACCR that will be heard at the Coles AGM on the 13th November 2019. You can help by calling on UniSuper to support the resolution. All you need to do is send them a message here. You can use the sample text below, copy and paste, or write your own.
The Australian cleaning industry has come under scrutiny for being at risk of modern slavery in a new book which draws links between consumers, business and government, and an estimated 40 million people who are modern-day slaves.
Addressing Modern Slavery explains the global conditions that have allowed slavery to thrive to the point “where there are more slaves today than ever before in human history”.
Authors Associate Professor Justine Nolan from UNSW Sydney and Dr Martijn Boersma from UTS describe well-known examples from overseas, such as women in apparel sweatshops and children in brick kilns – but also examples that are closer to home.
The authors include a submission from a former cleaner to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia who noted exploitation in the cleaning industry is very common.