29 December 2022

Coles, publicly: “Supermarket giant Coles is calling for enforceable, uniform housing standards for seasonal farm workers and rules against unfairly docking their pay to prevent overseas labourers from living in poverty and squalor and to shore up supply chains in an industry wracked by reputational damage. In a lift for the government’s war on labour-hire firms, Coles and major unions released a report on Friday taking aim at the horticulture sector’s heavy reliance on outsourcing workers. It attributes labour-hire firms with a decline in transparency and certainty in the industry, and links them to poor pay and lodging.”

Coles, privately [$]: “Coles, one of the nation’s largest supermarkets, is privately urging suppliers to cut costs rather than request price rises as it deals with a surge in demands to raise the price of products on shelves. In new correspondence with suppliers obtained by The Australian, the company says every business should ‘turn its mind’ to reducing costs… Coles has told its suppliers it will also reserve the right to negotiate price rise requests — or block them completely — if the supermarket feared a higher shelf price would have a negative effect on shoppers or cause a slide in sales. ‘All businesses will incur impacts to the cost of doing business at some point,’ a note sent to suppliers reads. ‘Every business needs to turn its mind to how it can remove costs from its operations. … Even where you can substantiate increases to cost of doing business including rising cost of inputs, Coles may not accept your request for a cost increase in full or at all.'”

It’s hard to see how any serious commitment to eradicating exploitation and modern slavery from the supply chain could be achieved by squeezing suppliers even harder, and refusing to allow them to pass on the increased costs of proper pay and adequate lodging. (Perhaps as a show of good faith they could sack Jeff Kennett, the “independent” arbiter Coles pays to resolve disputes with suppliers — who is hiding his work from the government’s Food and Grocery Code reviewer.)