For most people, the idea of slavery sounds like something from another century.
Yet insidious forms of slavery, bonded labour and worker exploitation still exists in many sectors of the economy and concern for worker welfare is driving a push to improve supply chain transparency.
Big players in the fruit and vegetable industry, such as Perfection Fresh and Costas, Fresh Produce Group, are large enough to be impacted by Modern Slavery legislation in NSW. This law requires entities with an annual turnover of $50 million or more to prepare and publish a Modern Slavery Statement and take actions to address risks of slavery or worker exploitation occurring within their supply chains.
Companies who fail to meet these requirements (or who provide false or misleading information) face penalties of up to $1.1 million.
In June, a Modern Slavery Bill was introduced into the Australian Parliament. If passed, it will require entities with an annual turnover of $100 million to prepare a Modern Slavery Statement each year to be posted on an online public register. Currently, the Federal Legislation does not contain penalties for failure to comply, however, the major food retailers have indicated they will participate. Both Coles and Woolworths have also adopted responsible or ethical sourcing policies.
The implication is that retailers and the larger fresh produce companies must have mechanisms in place to verify their suppliers employ workers correctly and appropriate policies, procedures and record-keeping systems. In the short term, direct suppliers are being requested to demonstrate their employment practices, however, in time, second and third tier suppliers will also face greater scrutiny.
All growers must be vigilant around checking that workers provided through labour hire companies receive the right pay and conditions.
Growcom continues to work closely with all segments of the supply chain towards the development of a Fair Farms training program and certification scheme with the aim of helping growers to meet these emerging requirements for verification and transparency.