Over the last two decades many of the world’s largest companies have been involved in scandals, misconduct and dubious ethics. Rather than relying on interventions by public authorities, the dominant governing rationality is informed by the belief that the market is able to balance social, environmental, and financial interests. However, the vast majority of companies that have been involved in ethical transgressions have survived – and have even thrived. Potential damage to the reputation of companies, or threats to their ‘social license to operate’, seems to have had a limited effect. There is therefore reason to believe that market forces are not adequate by themselves to correct corporate misbehaviour.
This chapter from the upcoming ‘Research Handbook on the Sociology of Organizations’ explores the reliance on market forces to correct corporate actions that are not aligned with the common good. It examines to what extent legitimacy theory adequately explains the dynamics around organizational legitimacy, and it proposes an expansion of legitimacy theory to increase its explanatory power: the use of social dominance theory and legitimizing myths expands (organizational) legitimacy as a theoretical construct. In explaining why antagonistic stakeholders continue to rely on market-based approaches, this research suggests that they have either bought into the hierarchy-enhancing myths, or they have not yet developed compelling hierarchy-attenuating myths to challenge the status quo. The chapter concludes with the suggestion that the ‘social license to operate’ and ‘corporate purpose’ are legitimizing myths that uphold the idea that the market can balance social, environmental, and financial interests.
Boersma - Organizational legitimacy and legitimizing myths
Modern slavery and worker exploitation are severe types of exploitation that can be found both internationally and in New Zealand. To address these behaviours, significant collaboration between government agencies as well as civil society, corporations, trade unions, academics, and international partners is needed.
The New Zealand Government sought feedback on a new law aimed at addressing modern slavery and worker exploitation in New Zealand and around the world. The law would introduce new obligations for organisations with operations and supply chains in New Zealand. Below is a submission made by academics and representatives from civil society that work on modern slavery and labour exploitation.
Consultation on Modern Slavery and Worker Exploitation - Bhakoo, Boersma, McGaughey, Nolan, Sinclair
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.
Continue reading Will Ratification of the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour Make Australia’s Approach to Modern Slavery More Survivor-Centred?
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
Supermarkets in Australia and around the world are under growing pressure to clean up their supply chains and rid them of modern slavery.
Discount chain Aldi last week became the first of Australia’s supermarkets to sign up to the Slave-Free Alliance, an offshoot of global anti-slavery organisation Hope for Justice.
Under the agreement, Aldi committed to conducting a human rights risk assessment of its operations as well as providing modern slavery awareness training to its employees and business partners, so suppliers and staff with product sourcing responsibilities can identify the signs of modern slavery and take action.
But University of Technology Sydney Business School modern slavery expert Martijn Boersma said Aldi’s decision to sign up to the Slave-Free Alliance was “more on the symbolic side of things than on the substantive side of things”.
Continue reading Modern slavery in supply chains of Australian supermarkets
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?
Continue reading Why do Companies Find it so Hard to Choose Between Profit and Principle?
The Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Uyghur Forced Labour) Bill 2020 is currently under consideration by the Australian Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee and a report is due by 12 May 2021.
Professor Justine Nolan and Dr Martijn Boersma have made a submission arguing that the Australian Government should:
- Expand the proposed Bill to prohibit the importation of all goods produced or manufactured using forced labour (regardless of their geographical origin).
- Consider the ability to impose fines on importers and end-buyers who import prohibit good and apply such fines for the provision of institutional support for survivors of trafficking and modern slavery.
- Ratify ILO Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (PO29) to ensure the development of holistic legislative framework that will sit alongside the Modern Slavery Act, and a new law that bans the importation of goods produced or manufactured using forced labour.
- Consider publicly disclosing which goods are prohibited from importation, as well as associated importers, manufacturers and geographical locations.
Modern slavery has gained attention in scholarship, legislation and media in recent years – and rightly so. As Nolan and Boersma discuss, the term ‘modern slavery’ is not unproblematic but is now commonly used to refer to several practices, including forced labour, bonded labour, trafficking, child slavery and forced marriage (pp. 7–8). The book is extremely timely and of particular interest in Australia since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act (Cth) 2018. This Act requires large businesses and the Commonwealth government to report on risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains (including overseas) and steps they are taking to address them. The first reports under the Act are due in 2020.
Continue reading Review of “Addressing Modern Slavery” in Journal of Industrial Relations