Supply chains have changed the nature of work and impacted on the traditional relationship between employer and employee.
A classic example is the commercial cleaning industry in Australia which has annual revenue of close to 10 billion dollars. It operates on a chain of outsourcing and contracts from the top to the bottom and those who work at the base of this chain are vulnerable and susceptible to exploitation.
UTS Law’s Dr Michael Rawling specialises in labour law and his latest research looks at the effectiveness of a multi-stakeholder initiative, the Cleaning Accountability Framework (CAF) designed to protect the rights and conditions of workers at the base of cleaning industry supply chains.
Dr Rawling says there are high levels of non-compliance with labour standards in commercial cleaning.
Owners of large buildings and their tenants outsource work to cleaning companies who may engage workers and/or outsource the work to smaller cleaning businesses, creating a structural pressure that contributes to low pay and poor working conditions (and often poor-quality cleaning for clients and unsustainable cleaning contractor business models).
Co-authored with Associate Professor Sarah Kaine from the UTS Business School, the research evaluates attempts to regulate an industry which tends to fall outside the reach of both Union and Government control.
Contractual relationships common to supply chains give rise to a situation in which the working arrangements that exist at the bottom are influenced by the demands of the dominant economic actors at the top. The inability of the union or the state regulator to overcome the structural pressures present in the commercial cleaning sector suggests that traditional forms of labour regulation and enforcement have not adequately addressed this dynamic.
The research finds that reconnecting all the parties in the supply chain through initiatives like CAF is one way to address the disadvantage of those at the bottom. In the longer term a combination of both voluntary and mandatory regulation of supply chains is required.
Strategic ‘Co-enforcement’ in Supply Chains: The Case of the Cleaning Accountability Framework, Sarah Kaine and Michael Rawling