Media release

Coles AGM: Company urged to address Modern Slavery

Coles shareholders have called on the company to protect workers from labour abuse and modern slavery practices in its fresh food supply chain.

At the company’s AGM this afternoon, the first since its demerger with Wesfarmers last November, shareholders voted on a resolution urging Coles to align their ethical sourcing policies and supplier requirements across its domestic fresh food supply chains to meet industry best-practice.

The resolution was co-filed by ACCR, industry super fund LUCRF Super, US-based asset manager Mercy Investments, and Catholic society Columban Mission. It is the first resolution on modern slavery filed with a company in Australian corporate history.

The resolution received support of 12.79% of shareholders, including Melbourne-based investment fund IFM Investors ($140bn AUM) (preliminary results).

In recent months Coles has come under scrutiny over labour exploitation in its supply chains.

Coles will be required to release their first report under the new Modern Slavery Act in the second half of 2020, identifying both the risks in their supply chain and the steps to mitigate them.

Quotes attributable to Dr Katie Hepworth, Director of Workers’ Rights, ACCR:

“Today several workers stood up at the Coles AGM and described instances of worker abuse and exploitation that they had faced while working in Coles’ supply chains. Coles board members were emphatic that they need to hear about this abuse.

“But Coles reiterated its commitments to models that have clearly failed to pick up the types of abuses which we’ve heard about today.

“The types of risks that we see in Coles’ domestic food supply chains cannot be dealt with by audits. Coles’ ethical sourcing policies have failed to identify widespread illegality in its fresh food supply chains. They have not - and cannot - ensure compliance.

“Only a model that actively involves farm workers in the oversight of their farms will ensure that Coles supply chains are freed from modern slavery.

“Coles should join the growing number of corporations globally who have adopted social compliance schemes which put workers front and centre of identifying and mitigating human and labour rights risks in their fresh food supply chains.

“As investors come to terms with their own responsibility for addressing modern slavery in their investments, which have come into force under the Act, we expect the level of engagement by company investors to increase.”