Tag Archives: working conditions

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.

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The reasoning behind conscious consumption

The Twitterverse was recently asked “Morally, is it worse to get something from Amazon, or Harvey Norman?”

The question solicited many responses: some described the character of the CEOs, others mentioned the wages and taxes paid (or not paid) by each company, while yet other Twitter users cited the labour conditions experienced by workers at these companies.

These factors may or may not influence whether you buy from Harvey Norman or Amazon, but they aren’t issues that help to answer the moral question. As a matter of fact, the question whether to buy from Harvey Norman or Amazon arguably isn’t a moral one at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important that people ask themselves questions such as these, but this specific question is a not a moral one: rather, it is an ethical question, the answer to which is informed by your values.

At the risk of sounding pedantic, let me explain.

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Coronavirus Hits Precarious Workers in Supply Chains Hardest

Computer chip and circuit board factory, Jiangxi, China. Shutterstock

The COVID-19 coronavirus is officially a pandemic, the US and Australian share markets have collapsed, both governments have unveiled stimulus packages, and Australia’s trade union movement is worried about the position of casuals. But things are worse overseas, including for the workers who make products for Australians.

20,000 garment workers in Cambodia face job losses from factory closures because of shortages of raw materials from China and reduced orders from buyers in the virus-affected locations including the United States and Europe. Thousands have already lost their jobs in Myanmar. Garment workers in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are uncertain of their futures.

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Cotton Value Chain – Labour Risk Heat Maps

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.

Labour Risk Heat Maps

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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.

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Nutella and Child Labour

Nearly three-quarters of the world’s hazelnuts come from Turkey and the biggest buyer is Ferrero, maker of Nutella, the chocolate and hazelnut spread. But the nuts are picked mainly by migrants, including children, who work long hours for very low pay. What is Ferrero doing to ensure its products do not depend on child labour?

In new our book “Addressing Modern Slavery“, we talk about Turkey, hazelnuts and Ferrero: “As Turkey’s Labour Code does not apply to farms with fewer than 50 employees, the state has effectively removed itself from policing this problem. Monitoring of working conditions and ensuring payment of wages is left to companies like Ferrero – a privately held company that is the third largest chocolate maker in the world – which refuses to disclose information about its supply chain” (p177 ).