QUT Centre for Justice Briefing Paper Series: Modern Advocacy and Exploitative Work

QUT Centre for Justice have released a Briefing Paper Series on Modern Slavery and Exploitative Work. This series was initiated by the QUT Centre for Justice Modern Slavery Research Group, a multi-disciplinary group of researchers seeking to improve knowledge and understanding of the issue of modern slavery and labour exploitation to combat this grave and complex global problem, in collaboration with QUT Centre for Decent Work and Industry.

Erin O'BrienThe first paper titled, Improving mobilization of anti-slavery activism through Facebook communication, by Judith Newton and Erin O’Brien (pictured) discusses how anti-slavery organisations utilise social media, particularly Facebook, to raise awareness of the problem of modern slavery and build support for efforts to combat this persistent human rights abuse. The authors’ research identifies three significant factors that serve as obstacles to Facebook users increasing their active participation in the modern slavery cause, and they make recommendations for small changes to social media strategy that move beyond awareness-raising and instead provide explicit calls to action that generate real impact.

In their paper titled, Modern Slavery Disclosure Practices: Risks induced by COVID-19 in business operations and supply chains, Shakoor Ahmed and Ellie Chapple review the inaugural round of Australia’s Modern Slavery Reporting Register in December 2020, which coincided with the COVID-19 global pandemic. This research focused on how companies responded during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the key aim to recommend improvement to future reporting. Using content analysis to examine the first modern slavery statements submitted under Australian legislation, the research finds more than half of the modern slavery statements did not disclose COVID-19 issues related to modern slavery risk. This research advises how companies can improve their future resilience and reduce modern slavery risks related in modern slavery reporting.

QUT Media highlighted this research in their release titled, Onus on consumers, media and investors to monitor modern slavery.

Gayani Samarakoon, Deanna Grant-Smith, Robyn Mayes and Dinuka Wijetunga co-wrote a paper titled, Strengthening the resistance of Global South women apparel workers’ through empowering their collective voice. Exercising employee voice is fundamental to developing workers’ self-organising capacity and realising their work rights. However, the voice of women apparel workers engaged in lesser-paid factory work is suppressed to ensure uninterrupted production in Global South sweatshops. This briefing paper explores how women apparel workers in Sri Lanka individually and collectively express resistance to unfair labour practices amid myriad voice suppression mechanisms. Based on semi-structured in-depth interviews with these women, the paper explores how they, despite being restricted to lower hierarchical positions on the apparel production floor, are not objects of suppression and subjugation. On the contrary, they resist exploitation in many informal ways, pointing to the need for a strong collective voice to productively have their say.

Hear Gayani, Risini Wasana Ilangasingha and Deanna Grant-Smith, on Radio Reversal, 4ZZZ on the topic of workers in feminised industries in Sri Lanka. The interview, hosted by Natalie Osborne from Griffith University, explores the key issues experienced by workers and how are those issues are shaped by gendered, racial, and class dynamics and some of the strategies to improve working conditions.

The full research paper, published in the Vidyodaya Journal of Management can be viewed here.

Justine Coneybeer and Rowena Maguire examine how garment workers in the Global South work full-time, yet they struggle to feed and house their families, send their children to school or save for their future needs in their paper titled, Evading responsibility: Living Wage Methodologies and Initiatives in the Fashion Industry. Many of these workers produce clothing for wealthy fashion companies in the Global North. Consequently, industry stakeholders have established multiple initiatives to mobilise fashion brands and retailers to act and resolve this wage issue. This Briefing Paper draws from Coneybeer and Maguire’s (2022) recent publication, Evading responsibility: a structural critique of living wage initiatives and methodologies, in the open access International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, and provides a summary analysis of living wage methodologies and initiatives popular in the garment industry. The paper critically assesses why progress on poverty wages has been limited and finds that leading fashion brands can evade responsibility through membership with weak living wage initiatives. The paper concludes that fashion brands must take accountability by accounting for a living wage in their purchase orders.

QUT Media highlighted this research in their release titled, Labour costs, not target retail price, should determine garment price for a living wage.

The authors would like to acknowledge funding from the Cotton Research and Development Corporation for the project, Strategies for improving labour conditions within the Australian cotton value chain.

A further article in The Conversation titled, Australia’s cotton farmers can help prevent exploitation in the global garment industry, written by Martijn Boersma (University of Notre Dame), Alice Payne (formerly of QUT and now RMIT) and Erin O’Brien (QUT) discussed this research project and findings.

You can find out more about the QUT Centre for Justice Briefing Paper Series here.