As part of the accord, Coles and the unions will meet regularly to collaborate on new initiatives and investigate complaints against the company’s suppliers. Frequent town hall meetings will also be held to field concerns from workers.
With one week until the company’s first-ever annual general meeting, Coles is hoping the agreement will quell shareholder concerns about modern slavery and worker exploitation in the company’s supply chain.
The accord does not appear to meet the threshold for worker-driven social responsibility.
Spokesperson from the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility
In September, activist shareholder group the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) filed a shareholder resolution pushing Coles to embed a union voice within its supply chains, claiming the company has an over-reliance on third-party audits.
In correspondence released today, the shareholder group 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.
“While investors, including ACCR, should support company steps to progress supply chain risk management, ACCR would caution investors against reliance on the announcement as sufficient evidence of progress to not support the resolution.”
Coles’ agreement is reminiscent of one struck by fellow supermarket Woolworths last year following a similar push from the ACCR calling on the company to provide better representation for unions in its supply chain.
In response, Woolworths agreed to enter a memorandum of understanding with the National Union of Workers to meet regularly to discuss workers rights, which helped the company avoid similar action from the ACCR this year.
Coles and the unions will also commission research into the benefits of ethical sourcing, along with exploring regulatory and legislative reform on labour hire use in supply chains. Workers will also receive more education on their rights, including information on freedom of association and migrant worker training.
“This is the kind of constructive unionism that can genuinely lead to real change on a mass level,” AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said.
“Unions need to work cooperatively right along the supply chain if we’re to ensure that workers are getting paid fairly – from our farms all the way through to our supermarket shelves.”
Dominic Powell writes about the retail industry for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.