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Australia: Coles' union alliance to address worker exploitation & safety met with criticism; Includes company comments

In July 2019, Coles formed an alliance with the Transport Workers' Union, the Australian Workers' Union and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, to address worker exploitation and risks to safety in their fresh food supply chain.

In November 2019, it was announced that the alliance had developed the 'Coles Ethical Retail Supply Chain Accord', which aims to protect the rights of workers in the supply chain. The Accord involves representatives from each organisation meeting to discuss complaints from workers, education and training, and investment into research on the social and economic benefits of ethical sourcing.

However, shareholder group The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), who in September filed a shareholder resolution to push Coles towards embedding union voices within its supply chain, argue that this agreement fails to address Coles' reliance on third-party audits, and does not cover the immediate risks illegal workers face across Coles' suppliers. It is also argues that the Accord fails to meet the threshold for worker-driven social responsibility.

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Article
14 November 2019

Australia: Coles questioned over affiliation with Business Council 'at odds' with Coles' environmental stance' & supply chain policies

Author: Dominic Powell, The Sydey Morning Herald

"Coles questioned on BCA membership, modern slavery at fiery AGM", 13 November 2019

Coles chairman James Graham has defended the supermarket's membership of the Business Council of Australia and admitted it has a "lot more to do" on its supply chain governance after coming under pressure from shareholders over its modern slavery policies.

Mr Graham told shareholders there was "rightly" a focus on the role companies play in addressing climate change, but rejected calls to leave the association, saying it was a "broad church".

"... we are interested in the sustainability of our environment and being a force for good...We view our membership of the BCA as being part of that,"...

...The BCA has said in the past Labor's 45 per cent emission reductions target was "economy wrecking", a view shareholders believed was at odds with Coles' stance...

...The company also faced a shareholder resolution...asking the supermarket to reassess its supply chain policies to reduce reliance on third-party audits, and to consult more with unions. 

Mr Graham [said]...the company had "a lot more to do" on its supply chain governance. "...we're working very hard and in a focused way to make sure that we lift our game,"...

...Mr Graham said the company was willing to work with any unions representing farmworkers on Coles suppliers, however, he dismissed the requests for workers to have oversight on auditing suppliers.

"The decision of who supplies Coles is a decision which Coles must make, so you must hold us accountable as to if we do that properly,"...

...The resolution was supported by 12.8 per cent of shareholders...

 

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Article
13 November 2019

Australia: Campaigners put forward resolution urging Coles to protect workers from 'modern slavery practices'

Author: Martin Farrer, The Guardian

"Supermarket firm Coles urged to help protect farm workers from 'modern slavery'", 12 November 2019

...Coles must act to protect workers from “modern slavery” practices in its...fresh food supply chain, according to a resolution being put to shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting...

... campaigners are demanding that the company has to “protect its interests and reputation” by bringing the treatment of thousands of workers into line with its “ethical sourcing policies and supplier requirements”.

Campaigners say there are up to 15,000 workers employed in slavery-like conditions in Australia, with problems including severe underpayment, withholding of wages, excessive overtime and threats of physical and sexual violence.

The Australian fresh food sector, in which Coles and its rival Woolworths buy up around 70% of the market, is seen as one of the worst culprits.

The resolution, which has been brought by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, says best practice should incorporate core principles of “worker-driven social responsibility”. It says workers should be consulted about which suppliers are used and they should be allowed to have unions involved in labour rights education and grievance procedures...

...Guardian Australia approached Coles for comment.

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Article
12 November 2019

Australia: Shareholder group 'unconvinced' by Coles' union alliance Accord to address modern slavery in supply chain

Author: Dominic Powell, The Age

"Coles strikes deal with unions to quell worker exploitation concerns", 5 November 2019

Coles has sought to quell concerns about modern slavery within the supermarket's supply chains via a new partnership with some of Australia's largest unions, but shareholder groups remain unconvinced...

...activist shareholder group the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR)...rubbished Coles' agreement, saying it does not initially appear to address its concerns and asked the supermarket for more detail on the nature of the accord.

The ACCR says at first glance the agreement fails to address the company's reliance on third-party audits and doesn't cover the "immediate and urgent" risk of illegal workers across Coles' suppliers.

"The information provided in the release indicates that the accord does not appear to meet the threshold for worker-driven social responsibility. Significantly, it does not indicate whether it will involve substantial changes to its supplier certification procedures," the group said.

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Article
5 November 2019

Australia: Coles & trade unions develop Accord to protect rights of workers within fresh produce supply chain

Author: Ruth Hogan, Inside FMCG

"Coles partners with workers’ unions to improve supply chain standards", 5 November 2019

Coles has announced a new partnership with some of Australia’s biggest workers’ unions as part of a commitment to help ensure the retailer runs an ethical and sustainable fresh produce supply chain.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Australian Workers Union (AWU) have worked with the supermarket giant to develop the Coles Ethical Retail Supply Chain Accord to protect the rights of all workers regardless of visa or employment status.

Representatives from each organisation will meet regularly to discuss the investigation of complaints and hear from workers, with a particular focus on labour hire organisations, and farmers, who are responsible for around 95 per cent of the fresh produce Coles sells...

...Education and training will form a large part of The Accord’s work with initiatives such as training for migrant workers...as well as investment into research on the social and economic benefits of ethical sourcing.

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Article
11 September 2019

Australia: Shareholders urge Coles to change its policies covering potential modern slavery in its supply chains

Author: Dominic Powell, The Sydney Morning Herald

"Coles under pressure over potential worker exploitation in supply chains", 11 September 2019

Supermarket giant Coles is under pressure from activist shareholders to change its policies covering potential modern slavery in its supply chains.

...The resolution has been proposed by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) and is co-filed with industry super fund LUCRF Super, US-based asset manager Mercy Investment Services and Catholic society St Columban's Mission.

...The ACCR argues Coles has an "over-reliance" on third-party audits...to be ineffective in identifying labour violations.

Instead, the organisation is pushing for worker rights and a union voice to be added to the Ethical Sourcing Policy....

It is also asking for supplier accreditation and compliance to be determined by multiple parties rather than just third-party auditors.

In a statement to the market after close of trading on Wednesday, Coles acknowledged it had received the resolution and said the board would post its voting recommendation to shareholders later this month.

[Woolworths is also mentioned in the report]

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Article
22 July 2019

Australia: Coles aligns with alliance of unions to address worker exploitation in fresh food supply chain

Author: Ashley Walmsley, Queensland Country Life

"Coles aligns with unions for safer workers", 21 July 2019

...Supermarket chain, Coles, has committed to work with an alliance of unions to address worker exploitation and risks to safety in the Australian fresh food industry...

...The Transport Workers' Union [TWU], the Australian Workers' Union and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association have all come aboard in order to pursue safe and fair conditions for workers across its fresh produce and meat supply chains.

The three unions will co-operate to organise transport, farm and retail workers to address worker exploitation and risks to health and safety...

...The agreement promotes transparency and end-to-end compliance with the Coles supply chains...

...TWU national secretary, Michael Kaine, said..."..."Coles has been working with the TWU to ensure safety and fairness in road transport and it has shown its commitment to continue to work with its supply chains to ensure that all workers are treated in accordance with Australian workplace legislation"...

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