Tag Archives: worker exploitation

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.

Continue reading Will Ratification of the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour Make Australia’s Approach to Modern Slavery More Survivor-Centred?

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.

Paper Promises

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

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.

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

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.

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Supply chain migrant worker exploitation

Fresh Food Supply Chain Worker Exploitation
Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Supply chains that deliver everyday products to our fridges and tables can link unsuspecting consumers to labour and human rights abuses. Supply chain transparency is a better answer to the issue of worker abuse than “cracking down” on visas, which can make workers more vulnerable to exploitation.

Continue reading Supply chain migrant worker exploitation