The ‘Evaluating the Quality of Modern Slavery Reporting in the Australian University Sector‘ report rates universities on their modern slavery statements. It finds that while universities would be expected to be ahead of the pack, they do not do as well as garment companies, on average.
Carla Unger Chan, chief author of the ‘Evaluating the Quality of Modern Slavery Reporting in the Australian University Sector‘ report said that "Many Universities are failing to comply with the mandatory reporting requirements under the Modern Slavery Act. Although all the universities made public commitments to eradicate modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, a substantial number have yet to translate these commitments into concrete actions that would make a tangible difference to the lives of workers."
Yet the ‘University efforts to combat modern slavery and labour abuses in supply chains’ report shows that universities are not reporting on all their efforts. Shelley Marshall, chief author of this second report said, "our survey and interviews suggest that modern slavery statements not be reliable. Those responsible for procurement report a range of techniques to combat labour abuses that we did not find in their modern slavery statements."
Associate Professor Marshall said, "Our interviews show that procurement officers have a sophisticated understandings of the potent labour abuse cocktail of short-stay immigration visas, international student work rules and sham contracting." However, she noted, "These are contract management experts, not labour law experts. Outsourcing of high-risk services like cleaning and security have put procurement officers in a near impossible situation where they are responsible for checking labour conditions in supply chains without the right skills and tools."
Associate Professor Marshall noted with alarm that "no interview participants discussed having set up ‘worker voice’ mechanisms, ‘worker-led monitoring’ or collaboration with unions, though this is what would be most effective in assessing compliance with labour laws. Plus, such tools are far less expensive than the range of methods described survey and interview respondents."
She noted that some universities are embarking on a pilot with the Cleaning Accountability Framework, which would overcome this deficit in tools for addressing labour abuse in that sector.
There are similar mulitstakeholder initiatives in other industries which universities and companies concerned about modern slavery and labour abuses can sign up to.
For more information contact: Shelley.Marshall@rmit.edu.au