Tag Archives: vulnerable workers

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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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.

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How an Industry Known for Exploiting Workers is Cleaning Up its Act

The cleaning industry has long had a reputation for exploiting workers, as cut-throat competition delivers contracts with profit margins so thin there’s little room to pay cleaners their legal entitlements.

The Cleaning Accountability Framework, with the help of a group of business, law and IT researchers, is making inroads into what has seemed at times an intractable problem.

Dr Martijn Boersma, who lectures in industrial relations and business ethics at the University of Technology Sydney Business School, has been working with CAF and says non-compliance with labour standards has been a big issue in the cleaning industry.

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New Book Sheds Light on Modern Slavery

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.

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How to Stop Businesses Stealing from their Employees

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A Senate inquiry has revealed that wage theft and underpayment are so prevalent in some industries that they have become the norm. Around 79% of hospitality employers in Victoria, for instance, did not comply with the national award wage system between 2013 and 2016.

Regulators and unions don’t have the resources to combat this issue, and so we need another method to tackle wage exploitation. One way is to introduce a multi-stakeholder certification scheme, using market forces to reward companies that have committed to fair working conditions and punish those that don’t.

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