Tag Archives: migrant 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.

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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Seasonal farm workers make claims of ‘modern slavery’

Some Pacific Islander workers say they feel like they are being “treated like slaves” as fruit pickers in Australia under the Seasonal Worker Programme.

For Samoan man Alex Muese, arriving in Australia to work was a dream come true.

Mr Muese, 34, carries great responsibility as he cares for eight children, his wife and her parents.

When he received his Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) visa, he thought he would earn an hourly wage to support his family in Samoa.

Continue reading Seasonal farm workers make claims of ‘modern slavery’

New Research Article: Multi-Stakeholder Frameworks for Rectification of Non-Compliance in Cleaning Supply Chains

There is now an expanding body of literature on the significant problem of business non-compliance with minimum labour standards including ‘wage theft’. Extended liability regulation beyond the direct employer is seen as one solution to this non-compliance in fragmented but hierarchically organised industries—such as the cleaning industry. This article uses empirical evidence to assess the effectiveness of one such regulatory scheme, the Cleaning Accountability Framework (CAF), in addressing non-compliance with minimum labour standards (including provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and the Cleaning Services Award 2020). We find that CAF has been successful in identifying and rectifying certain non-compliance, improving working conditions for some cleaners involved in the scheme. We synthesise the key success factors of CAF in view of envisioning the adoption of such co-regulation frameworks in other industries. We also propose legal reforms that will support change across the cleaning industry.

The article was published in the Federal Law Review.

Rawling et al. - 2021 - Multi-Stakeholder Frameworks for Rectification of

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?

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

Book Review: “Addressing Modern Slavery”

When the Bill that became the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) was introduced into the federal parliament, it was accompanied by a grim message: two centuries after the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom, it is estimated that there are twenty-five million victims of modern slavery worldwide. It also came with a bracing if Panglossian promise: that the Modern Slavery Act would ‘transform’ the way large companies in Australia do business, and drive a ‘race to the top’. Published a year after the introduction of this legislation, Addressing Modern Slavery is a timely reflection on the pervasiveness of modern slavery in global supply chains – and on the role of the state, business, and other actors in combating this serious and complex problem.

Continue reading Book Review: “Addressing Modern Slavery”

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.

Continue reading New book reveals modern slavery is all around us

Message to Coles, Woolworths: Act now to end modern slavery

The Australian horticultural sector is one of the most at-risk industries for modern slavery.

recent survey by the National Union of Workers among 650 workers found severe underpayments and withholding of wages, excessive overtime, retention of identity documents, threats of and actual physical and sexual violence, and coercive and excessive payments for transport and board.

A group of academics, experts in the area of labour and human rights, modern slavery, and supply chains, have initiated an open letter in which they ask Coles and Woolworths to address labour exploitation and the risk of modern slavery.

Australia’s Modern Slavery Act requires businesses to report yearly on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, the actions taken in response, and the effectiveness of these actions. The first reporting cycle started on July 1.

Unfortunately, although companies and consumers are increasingly aware that modern slavery exists, it is a phenomenon that is often dismissed or misunderstood.

Continue reading Message to Coles, Woolworths: Act now to end modern slavery

Do No Harm? The Hidden Cost of Your Healthcare.

There are unacceptable hidden costs in the production and procurement of medical goods by Australian companies and government, according to a new report published on Thursday by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and The Australia Institute. The report – Do No Harm: Procurement of medical goods by Australian companies and government – documents mounting evidence of labour and human rights abuses in the overseas production of goods such as gloves, surgical instruments, clothing, footwear and electronics. It calls for action at corporate and government levels, saying Australia is not doing enough to stop exploitation of workers, including children, in low-wage countries in their supply chains.

The report’s author Martijn Boersma outlines the key findings and recommendations in the post below. Continue reading Do No Harm? The Hidden Cost of Your Healthcare.

Australian Government Must Protect Vulnerable Workers in Supply Chains

Image: Pro Bono Australia
Image: Pro Bono Australia

There are more people subjected to slavery-like practices today than at any time in history: almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour.

Due to complex and opaque supply chains, something you wear, eat or drink may very well have touched the hands of a person, even a child, working under duress and in hazardous conditions.

These human rights abuses are linked to Australian companies, investors, government and consumers through global supply chains: 60 per cent of trade in the real economy depends on the supply chains of 50 companies, which only employ 6 per cent of workers directly.

A total of 11.7 million victims of forced labour and 78 million child labourers are located in the Asia-Pacific region. Given the fact that seven countries in this region comprise Australia’s top 10 import sources, Australian companies and government have a responsibility to meet these human rights abuses head on.

Continue reading Australian Government Must Protect Vulnerable Workers in Supply Chains