Labour exploitation is endemic on Australian farms.

Since 2015, there have been frequent reports of abuse and illegality in Australian fresh food supply chains. Stories include the sexual abuse of migrant workers, workers paid as little as $4/hour, and workers paying $100 per week each to live 70 people to a 5 bedroom house.

With the passing of the Modern Slavery Act in 2018, there is growing awareness among consumers and shareholders of the responsibility of lead buyers to manage labour rights violations throughout their supply chains.

Coles and Woolworths are the principal buyers of fresh fruit and vegetables in Australia. Between them, the two major supermarkets have a market share of over 70%.

ACCR has engaged with both companies about these issues since 2017. We filed shareholder resolutions with Woolworths in 2017 and 2018, and with Coles in 2019.

The resolutions urged both companies to align their ethical sourcing policies and supplier requirements in their domestic horticulture supply chains to industry best-practice for supply chain due diligence and compliance.

Any effective compliance mechanism that will properly deal with the types of modern slavery and other related risks seen in Australia’s supply chains should involve the following elements:

  1. Supplier accreditation and compliance is determined through a multi-stakeholder approach, involving workers and the representative organisation(s) of their own choosing.
  2. Workers receive peer-led labour rights education with the involvement of representative organisation(s) of their own choosing.
  3. Grievance procedures are led by workers, and involve the representative organisation(s) of workers’ own choosing in the resolution of complaints.

ACCR is continuing to engage Coles and Woolworths on their horticultural supply chains. However, due to the impacts of COVID on the implementation of the above principles, we will not be filing a resolution in 2020.

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