Scentre Group will enhance its disclosure on prevention of wage theft in cleaning contracts and how it manages safe workloads for cleaning staff, after facing the possibility of a shareholder resolution on the topic at its April AGM.
The new reporting will form part of Scentre Group's Responsible Business Report and Modern Slavery Statement which will be released on 31 March, Scentre Group said.
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) has been engaging with Scentre Group on the issue, and was preparing to file a shareholder resolution for the upcoming AGM. Katie Hepworth, director of workers' rights at ACCR said the organisation had obtained the necessary shareholder support to support the filing of the resolution.
Scentre Group Limited is the owner and operator of Westfield Shopping Centres in Australia and New
Zealand. It is one of the largest procurers of commercial cleaning services in Australia, which has been identified as a high risk sector for modern slavery.
Under this new agreement, Scentre Group will disclose not just the processes for identifying and mitigating risks within their cleaning supply chains, but also how work, health and safety obligations are monitored and the efficacy of grievance mechanisms available to workers, ACCR noted.
"Our requirement for disclosure went beyond the Modern Slavery Act, because what we want to know is the steps Scentre Group are taking to make sure that no wage theft is going to occur in cleaning contracts, and also occupational health and safety provisions," Hepworth said. "There is a threshold above modern slavery that responsible businesses must adhere to."
Scentre Group provided FS Sustainability with a statement in which a spokesperson said "each year, we continue to enhance and improve our disclosures and reporting as part of our commitment to being a responsible, sustainable business," and affirmed the company would release its report at the end of March.
Scentre Group is a member of the Property Council of Australia, which is leading a collaborative group of the 17 largest property companies in developing a tech platform that gathers and collates information from industry suppliers on their modern slavery exposures in operations and supply chain. Scentre Group is part of that collaborative group.
The tech solution developed via Informed 365 is gathering pre-competitive information from supplier companies in the cleaning and security sectors, and the goal is to create a single source of reporting for suppliers and a pool of information that property companies can use when developing their Modern Slavery statements in accordance with the Australian Modern Slavery Act.
The platform could be adapted to capture the sort of information that Scentre Group will need under this enhanced disclosure, said Nicholas Bernhardt, CEO of Informed 365.
"Companies could add whatever functionality they wanted, whatever metric, that's how it's built," Bernhardt said. "For quite a few of our clients, we already manage a whole range of environmental and social metrics, and it's literally an unlimited universe if you wanted to track conflict minerals, timber, Indigenous affairs, the capabilities are there, the ability is there to expand on any metric that they want."
However, to gain a deep understanding of whether cleaners are experiencing wage theft and if their occupational health and safety is being property attended, particularly as regards the COVID-19 pandemic, a deeper approach could be implemented. The Cleaning Accountability Framework (CAF) is an initiative that conducts worker engagements - going into workplaces, empowering representatives and speaking with workers over time to build relationships and enhance worker agency.
CAF is a voluntary initiative that was founded by AustralianSuper ,the United Workers Union, and the Fair Work Ombudsman that building owners have signed on to allow CAF to develop relationships to conduct worker engagements with the cleaning and property workers within building operations. CAF certifies buildings' cleaning supply chains on a star rating system.
"The crux of what we do is make sure that workers are engaged in any compliance mechanism," said Poonam Datar, CEO of CAF. "That's the first part. The second part is ensuring that the totality of the supply chain is involved in setting those good standards."
CAF will perform a time and wages check audit and sample worker conditions, but will then do meetings at buildings with the United Workers Union, Datar said.
"First we will verify what is coming through in a desktop audit with workers when we go and meet them, and meetings are done with the union, our partner in worker engagement," Datar said. "We also try to find any issues you can't find out in the audit. The reason behind this approach of worker engagement rather than a social audit is that we're talking about vulnerable workers here. A lot are scared to speak up because they fear retribution. We do education, come out, talk about the issues, wider context, and then we say we're seeing certain things where there's non-compliance across the board, or this is an issue area in a lot of other buildings, how does it look here? We also offer an option to join the union."
The observations that CAF records during its certification process can be plugged into a platform such as Informed 365, Datar noted.
The initiative started in 2019, and is gaining traction in the buildings that have signed up.
"We are seeing improvements in discussions with workers after a year or two," Datar said. "The first year is an introduction to say this is CAF, and CAF is different to the union, your owner is involved, and you have to demonstrate that you serve a purpose.
"Based on their feedback, that's where you start to build the lines of trust. CAF can't get out there every day. We're reliant on the union, because they can talk to workers more often, although we do have CAF representatives - cleaners that are elected by other cleaners to receive training and an allowance to monitor conditions."
Datar noted that the buildings that have signed up tend to have workers in more fair conditions through the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I can only really talk about CAF buildings, but the biggest demonstration of how CAF is working is through the survey results that show that cleaners in CAF buildings are doing better than cleaners in other buildings," she said.