Coles questioned on BCA membership, modern slavery at fiery AGM

Recently, fellow retailer JB Hi-Fi, along with wealth manager AMP and oil giant Santos quit the BCA.

The company also faced a shareholder resolution filed by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) asking the supermarket to reassess its supply chain policies to reduce reliance on third-party audits, and to consult more with unions.

Mr Graham told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald the company had “a lot more to do” on its supply chain governance.

“It’s a genuine issue in the Australian community, and we’re working very hard and in a focused way to make sure that we lift our game,” he said.

At the meeting workers from the supermarket’s farmer suppliers challenged Coles’ executives over its ethical sourcing policy, asking the retailer to work with unions to ensure workers are fairly treated and paid.

Mr Graham said the company was willing to work with any unions representing farm workers on Coles suppliers, however, he dismissed the requests for workers to have oversight on auditing suppliers.

“The decision of who supplies Coles is a decision which Coles must make, so you must hold us accountable as to if we do that properly,” Mr Graham told the meeting.

Mr Graham also pointed to Coles’ recently signed memorandum of understanding with three major Australian unions as a sign of the retailer’s willingness to work with unions.

The resolution was supported by 12.8 per cent of shareholders.

Chief executive Steven Cain also indicated the supermarket’s sales had begun to accelerate as the year moved towards Christmas, following its better-than-expected sales result for the first quarter of the 2020 financial year.

“As we near the key Christmas trading period, we are seeing increased sales momentum that demonstrates the changes we are making to inspire customers are beginning to make a difference,” Mr Cain said.

Coles shares fell 2.38 per cent to $15.16 on Wednesday, largely in line with the broader market.

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