Academics demand Coles/Woolies end modern slavery

Via New Daily:

The Australian horticultural sector is one of the most at-risk industries for modern slavery.

recent survey by the National Union of Workers among 650 workers found severe underpayments and withholding of wages, excessive overtime, retention of identity documents, threats of and actual physical and sexual violence, and coercive and excessive payments for transport and board.

A group of academics, experts in the area of labour and human rights, modern slavery, and supply chains, have initiated an open letter in which they ask Coles and Woolworths to address labour exploitation and the risk of modern slavery.

Australia’s Modern Slavery Act requires businesses to report yearly on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, the actions taken in response, and the effectiveness of these actions. The first reporting cycle started on July 1.

Unfortunately, although companies and consumers are increasingly aware that modern slavery exists, it is a phenomenon that is often dismissed or misunderstood.

The continuum of labour exploitation

Labour abuses in the Australia horticultural industry are exposed regularly.

In 2015 Four Corners revealed that food was being picked, packed and processed by exploited workers and sold nationwide, including by supermarkets and fast food chains.

It exposed crime syndicates acting as labour hire companies, selling migrant labourers to work at cut prices. They were paid as little as $3.95 an hour, worked 22-hour shifts, slept on dog beds, and some were forced to perform sexual acts to extend their visa.

In 2018, the Fair Work Ombudsman released a five-year study detailing conditions experienced by seasonal harvest workers in Australia. It completed 836 investigations, involving 444 growers and 194 labour-hire contractors. It recovered $1,022,698 for 2503 employees, but it believes the full extent of underpayments is significantly worse.

Problematically, these abuses are too often treated in isolation. The key to understanding modern slavery is that it occurs on a spectrum of exploitation. Poor working conditions including wage theft and excessive working hours should raise a red flag, as they often coincide with threats and coercion, which can amount to modern slavery.

Many forms of exploitation are wilfully meant to limit the possibility to exit employment. Even where working conditions don’t rise to the level of modern slavery, exploitative practices are serious breaches of Australian laws and labour rights of workers.

Migrant labour rife with risk of modern slavery

The horticultural industry is highly reliant on migrant labour. Hundreds of thousands of people enter Australia on temporary visas each year, and many others are working here having overstayed their visas.

Migrant workers are vulnerable of falling victim to modern slavery because they often have limited English skills, lack knowledge of labour rights – which are often limited because of restrictive visa conditions, and they frequently find themselves in financially precarious conditions – for example because they incurred a debt to their employer.

Fear of immigration enforcement is a particularly potent contributor to severe exploitation.

Once migrant workers breach their visa conditions, they often feel they have no choice but to accept lower wages: if they speak out or complain, they are sacked or even deported. Migrants who have overstayed their visas are at even greater risk of modern slavery.

The open letter calls for amnesty for undocumented workers, as modern slavery in the sector will not be eradicated while workers cannot speak up out of fear for deportation.

Urgent action by supermarkets needed

Coles and Woolworths have significant leverage to address modern slavery in the Australian horticultural sector, as they account for almost 70 per cent of market share for grocery sales.

To meaningfully address modern slavery, Coles and Woolworths must take a multi-stakeholder approach to supplier certification that involves workers and their representatives, and involve trade unions in labour rights education and in grievance procedures.

The relentless downward cost pressures forces farmers and suppliers to resort to cut-price labour to stay afloat, which significantly increases the risk of labour exploitation. Coles and Woolworths should ensure that all contracts with suppliers are sufficient to deliver at award wages to all workers.

At the end of the day, Australia’s Modern Slavery Act relies on civil society and consumers for enforcement. The idea is that company disclosures enable civil society to expose poor performers, prompting a consumer backlash. On the flipside, companies get an opportunity to showcase their social performance and enhance their reputation.

It is now up to Coles and Woolworths to show they understand what is required of them.

Martijn Boersma, Justine Nolan and Laurie Berg are academics at UTS and UNSW that have initiated the open letter that calls for Coles and Woolworths to address the risk of modern slavery.

It’s worth nothing that the supposedly “leftie” press at Domain and The Guardian have not bothered reporting the open letter, no doubt owing to concerns that that would be “racist”.

However, Domain journalists have reported on the latest celebrity chef scandal, via Domain:

High-profile chef, author and TV presenter Shane Delia is the latest high-end restaurant owner to be accused of underpaying staff.

The Sunday Age can reveal that Mr Delia, owner of Maha Restaurant in Melbourne, is subject of a probe by the Fair Work Ombudsman for alleged underpayment.

A meal for two at Maha can cost about $300 but a former chef, who asked not to be named, said working conditions at the restaurant were poor.

Chefs could work in excess of 50 hours a week, he said, while being paid for 38 hours. That pushed their pay below the minimum rates of the award, the wages safety net.

As we know this allegation, like all of the others, is an accident and isolated. It is not a systemic issue, nor the core function of the Australian mass immigration economic model.

Latest posts by David Llewellyn-Smith (see all)


  1. Forrest GumpMEMBER

    Don’t worry people.

    Its all good according to our Deputy PM Michael McCormack whom responded to criticism from the Pacific Island Nations regarding Australia’s lack of effort to mitigate CO2 emissions leading to the demise of Tuvalu and other countries….

    Our Deputy PM responded by saying.

    We give these people jobs picking our fruit

    So there you have it people. After we contribute to the loss of their homes & land, we compensate them by giving them a job in the middle of bumfu[knowwhere at $3.00 per hour working 20 hours a day. And to prevent them from running off to a better paid job, we confiscate their passports, restrict their access to transport.

    Oh, did I mention equality? No?, they also get food and board deducted from their $3.00 per hour. We can’t have these free loaders bludging off farmers doing it tough in the drought can we? So if the pretty ones want to have a nice bed to sleep in…then thats also an optional extra..but we can’t discuss that on line because thats a contractual matter between 2 consenting adults right?

    Ahh yes, As an Aussie, I am content that my conscience is clean. We let them pick our fruit in pristine conditions to compensate them for the loss of their land.

    I voted LNP and Im happy coz i get to buy fresh fruit and veggies from Coles at a real cheap price.

    Rant Finished:

  2. Well I demand my $1 strawberry punnets and $1 bread loaves.

    If it takes an army of slaves to deliver them, so be it.

    As long as I can (as I plan) skip across the heads of the slaves and “get ahead” rather than sinking into the morass, that’s all that matters.

    • I think that Coles has an OH&S requirement that vibrants aren’t allowed to use knives. I can’t seem to get a half pumpkin or cauliflower anymore and when I asked the poor bloke stacking mandarins he looked at me blankly.
      I’ll gladly pay a dollar more for someone to halve something for me.

    • I hazard a guess that the majority of Australians quietly share the same view.
      Slavery gets sh*t done.
      Just look at the Roman empire and the Greeks and Egyptians before them; they ALL had slaves.
      If assorted vibrants want to make their way to and settle in our fair land and enjoy all the benefits that this entails; then it is entirely understandable that hard-working, taxpayers are indifferent to some modern-day “slavery-lite”.
      Particularly if it keeps prices down.

      • Yes. Particularly if it keeps the right sorts of prices down, and the other right sorts of prices up.

        • Yep. Same as child slave labour in textile factories and shoe factories “somewhere else”.

          Just show me the shiny product. Don’t tell me how them sausages are made.

          • The rising tide may lift all boats but who cares if some boats are leaking and/or getting smaller.
            The elite etc. want and get bigger, better, shinier boats.
            The slaves at the bottom get buckets to help bail out water so that they can stay afloat.
            Everybody wins …….. Don’t they?

    • reusachtigeMEMBER

      Oh come on Peachy, these aren’t slaves. As much as I’d support proper slavery if it meant lower prices and larger profits these people are still getting paid something for their troubles and compared to bumfuckistan they’re earning a mint. They’re having a go and getting a go! Good on them and well done to the labour hire companies who are helping everyone out.

      • I know mate.

        Unfortunately we do have to keep our wages a bit above bumfuсkistan, in order that there is a positive wage gradient between bumfuсkistan and Straya, and so we get a constant flow of vibrants to immensely boost our profits.

        Yes it costs some of our freshly printed money, but I guess we all have to make sacrifices. It’s a way of having a go.

        • reusachtigeMEMBER

          It’s when they don’t come anymore of their own accord we need to just go grab them ourselves!

  3. If they don’t want to be treated like slaves, don’t come to Australia on holiday visas intending to work.

    • Why not? Me and my friends go to India all the time, on holiday visas, intending to work and make some sweet sweet money. And we expect to be treated with respect there.

      We must reciprocate here.

  4. Not quite but close. The majority of foreign illegal pickers are Malaysian Chinese on ETA’s or expired ETA’s (Electronic Travel Authorities- issued online to supposedly “safe” visitors who will go home at the end of their holiday) along with other Asian visitors working in breach of their no work visitor’s visa conditions. Most of the Punjabi Indians (Sikhs) working in unskilled menial jobs got in as Students then rorted the Onshore Skilled Migration program to get Permanent Residence.The whole immigration program is a mess..

  5. 440,000 third world unskilled migrant ‘tourist visitors’ on long stay and repeat stay visas working & living here illegally. (5% of the 8.8 million tourist visitors into Australia yearly are only here to live & work illegally in visa breach – DHA / ABF submission to the parliamentary enquiry.

    And read the actual interviews of these migrants in the later ‘migrant / black economy a national disgrace report’.
    Not ‘exploited’
    Not ‘victims’
    Paying huge bribes, cash back, lining up in queues in the millions to be trafficked into Australia to live & work illegally.

    And these are in addition to the 2.561 million TR/SCV or which at least 1.5 million, also in visa breach and working illegally in the vast foreign criminal run black economy.
    And the 65,000 Overstayers.
    3 million.

    We have onshore more lowlife slum and rural poor third world migrant guestworkers than Gaddafi at his peak.

    None of these millions of criminal Illegals in visa breach are not ‘victims’ or ‘exploited’..
    They are ALL ‘willing participants’.
    Peasantry and slum dwellers, trafficked in for illegal work, along with the tens of thousands of end of life Asian prostitutes also trafficked in as ‘foreign students’ or ‘tourist visitors’.
    No health checks or their falsified foreign agent doctors routinely bribed.
    From countries riddled with TB, Hep, NDM-1, intestinal and skin diseases, esp the Indians & Nepalese – and the Muslim Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Malays & others from the rural or village slums often aren’t vaccinated, as Allah forbids that.

    Or say Japan with their Nepalese student experience last year – one third of the Nepalese found to be heavily infected with TB and on false health documents. Only discovered after TB & Hep outbreaks in the Japanese Universities and the Japanese students forced these Nepalese to undergo accredited Japanese medical Health checks. Most of the Nepalese foreign students engaged in prostitution or working illegally.

    Yep – and we have 3 million non Australians third world unchecked or fake health check document migrant guestworkers..

    Who are making your ready prepared sandwiches, handling the milk & cups for your cappuccino, slaughtering & cooking up your $15 toast chicken.
    The unwashed ‘left hand’ of Sunil or Abu touching / taking and handing back your money, sorting & fingering your bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, handling the meat, the milk, kneading the pastry dough, stacking the tins & bottles on the shelf, cooking or serving burgers.

    The most major bio security risk to Australia.

    No screening on entry
    No tracking
    No funds checking
    No activity checking
    No location controls
    No accommodation register

    3 million non citizens/ non PR transient migrant guestworkers.

    No one in any federal or state government, policing or enforcement authority- including immigration – has any idea where they are, or what they doing.

    No or rare visa enforcement.

    And if by happenstance they are caught…
    Off they go on the well trodden path to the Appeals Tribunal to plead their script that they were ‘victims’ and ‘exploited.

    To be granted a 5 year plus stay and full work rights as they exploit all the loopholes thru Cat A to E – finally getting PR or re-entering via the NZ SCV racket.

    So don’t blame Coles or Woolworths.
    Or expect a Union & Employer lead campaign to sort it out.
    That’s just blaming one small symptom or outcome of a much broader issue.

    We have a $138 million foreign criminal run migrant guestworkers ‘sub economy’
    We have 3 million migrant guestworkers.
    They are 12% of the total population of Australian.
    Their avg income / economic activity $42k. (Treasury)
    Half the Australian average.
    Reflecting they are unskilled useless or black market cash economy/ no tax paid & no social contribution.
    They make up 6.5% of our GDP.

    These 3 million migrant guestworkers alone lower the Australian average GDP per Capita by some 8% overall

    They create direct unemployment impacts to over 1 million Australians costing some $18 billion (1.5 million unemployed Australians, 1.1 million seeking work) plus lower wages for all other working Australians.

    And this is our single largest growth industry..

    The importation of millions of unchecked unscreened third world rural and slum poor – to work here illegally.