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CAF’s approach to addressing modern slavery

CAF Building Certification involves a process to address modern slavery risk by working with entities at the top of the supply chain to undertake human rights due diligence with regard to procurement, management and delivery of cleaning services; and to engage the entire supply chain in remediation processes where labour rights violations are identified. We focus on the top of the supply chain because procurers of cleaning services have significant power to determine the working conditions of cleaners, despite not being in an employment relationship with them.

The foundations of CAF’s cutting-edge approach to identifying, preventing and mitigating modern slavery risk through certification are:

The promotion of decent work

CAF takes a preventative approach to modern slavery through the promotion of decent work amongst CAF Members and in particular through the CAF Building Certification process.In this context, decent work means ensuring that workers are receiving fair pay, are working safely, and have the ability to speak up helps prevent slavery-like practices from occurring.

Companies that advance decent work in their supply chain are contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda in particular SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG 8.7 (end modern slavery by 2025).

For a breakdown of supply chain stakeholders’ responsibility to mitigate modern slavery risk for cleaners, see this table.

Human rights due diligence

The CAF certification process reflects a human rights due diligence approach to identifying and addressing labour exploitation and modern slavery risks in the cleaning industry.

+ What is human rights due diligence?

The Australian Government makes clear in its Modern Slavery Reporting Guidance that business should manage their modern slavery risks using the ‘human rights due diligence’ framework outlined in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

The UNGPs are the current, global authoritative standard on preventing and addressing business-related human rights harms, such as labour exploitation and modern slavery. The UNGPs state that businesses have a ‘responsibility to respect’ human rights of others, which means they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and address human rights harms with which they are involved. The UNGPs ask businesses meet this responsibility in practice by having a policy commitment to human rights, undertaking ongoing human rights due diligence, and remediating harms with which they are involved.

Human rights due diligence is an ongoing risk management process to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for human rights harms arising from a businesses’ activities and relationships, such as their supply chains.

The key steps in the human rights due diligence process1 are:

  • risk identification and assessment
  • integrating your findings by implementing risk management measures
  • tracking and monitoring the measures you have taken
  • publicly communicating the action you are taking (for example in your modern slavery statement).2

+ CAF Certification and human rights due diligence

The CAF Certification process addresses modern slavery risks by facilitating ongoing human rights due diligence in relation to labour rights violations in a building’s cleaning services from the point of procurement and throughout the life of the contract, using a worker-centric approach.

+ Risk identification and assessment, and risk management and remediation

This section will be of assistance to those responding to modern slavery reporting Criterion 4, which asks entities to describe the steps they have taken to assess and address their modern slavery risks, including due diligence and remediation. The Government’s Modern Slavery Reporting Guidance explains that the reference to ‘due diligence’ in criterion 4 is a reference to ‘human rights due diligence.

The CAF Certification process facilitates identification, assessment and management of modern slavery and other labour risks, and facilitates their remediation. CAF’s assessment of labour standards at a building is centred on identifying dangerous or substandard working conditions which are indicators of modern slavery that may require investigation and remediation, and implementing best practice employment practices and supply chain conduct.

The assessment of working conditions against the CAF Standard includes a process to diagnose the presence of slavery-like practices through independent third party assessment and worker engagement. A CAF Star rating is awarded when the conditions for decent work are implemented.

CAF Building Certification entails an independent third-party assessment of cleaning supply chains. This involves an assessment of mechanisms relevant to modern slavery risk including procurement processes, employment practices, oversight of contractor compliance, and supply chain transparency and accountability.

The UNGPs stress the importance of centring the voices of potentially affected stakeholders (such as workers) in the process of identifying and assessing human rights risks, and consulting stakeholders directly to understand their concerns, in a manner that takes into account language and other potential barriers.3

CAF’s assessment includes a targeted process to identify the presence of modern slavery through worker engagement. The CAF modern slavery diagnostic process includes questions to workers about recruitment fees and debts, deceptive recruitment, coercive practices, and threats of deportation. Through the holistic education and engagement CAF conducts with workers in conjunction with United Workers Union, we are also able to determine if workers appear to be being controlled and fearful about speaking up, which can be a warning sign that workers are being subjected to slavery-like practices.

Through the CAF building certification process, stakeholders are required to demonstrate compliance with the CAF 3 Star Standard. Where non-compliance is identified, stakeholders must implement corrective action to achieve and maintain certification.

Property owners and managers involved in CAF also include CAF requirements in their cleaning tenders and contracts, setting the expectation and contractual obligation for their cleaning service providers to meet the CAF Standard as part of their engagement and participate in a CAF Building Certification assessment during the lifetime of the contract.

Building managers can participate in CAF Compliance Training, which provides them with the necessary tools with which to monitor their cleaning contractor’s compliance with the CAF Standard.

CAF building certification address the following problems:

  • opaque and insufficiently priced cleaning contracts,
  • widespread underpayment of wages and entitlements,
  • unsafe workloads and working conditions, and
  • lack of worker voice.

By participating in CAF building certification, stakeholders:

  • are educated on the various factors that increase modern slavery risk,
  • are made aware of past and present labour rights abuse of cleaners in their operations and supply chains, and
  • receive guidance on how to prevent reoccurrence of non-compliance with labour standards

Property companies continue to manage risks through ongoing compliance checks in their certified buildings, which involves requesting evidence of compliance at regular intervals; conducting unscheduled spot checks of their cleaning service providers; engaging directly with cleaners at their buildings through CAF worker engagement meetings and quarterly meetings with the CAF Representative; participating in CAF Annual Health Checks, where ongoing compliance is assessed; investigating and remediating (either directly or requiring remediation by their suppliers) of contraventions of labour standards.

Examples of remediation implemented through CAF certification include repayment of unpaid wages and entitlements, proactive measures relating to workplace health and safety, bullying and harassment, discrimination, training, working time, freedom of association, worker education, supervisor training, and revision of cleaning contractor policies and procedures.

+ Tracking and monitoring the measures taken and publicly communicating the action you are taking

This section will be of assistance in responding to modern slavery reporting criterion 5 which asks entities to describe how they assess the effectiveness of actions taken.

The UNGPs expect that businesses will track the effectiveness of their responses to human rights risks to drive continuous improvement, using qualitative and quantitative indicators, and drawing on feedback from both internal and external sources, including affected stakeholders (e.g. workers).4 The CAF Certification process assists stakeholders track the effectiveness of the actions to manage labour rights and modern slavery risks and to obtain regular feedback from vulnerable workers about the effectiveness of these actions.

As part of CAF building certification, building owners, building managers, and cleaning contractors involved in the process receive detailed third-party reporting on compliance with the CAF 3 Star Standard.

This includes an audit report completed by an independent registered auditor that assesses compliance against each of the assessable components of the CAF 3 Star Standard, including observations and requirements to implement to achieve compliance.

Stakeholders in building certification also receive feedback from cleaners at the site, compiled by CAF based on feedback from cleaners obtained through a survey, worker engagement meetings, and any additional follow-up communication by cleaners to their union and CAF. The worker engagement report contains recommendations for investigation and remediation as appropriate.

The CAF Certification Panel, comprised of an employer representative, a worker representative, the Chair of CAF, an independent research representative, and the Fair Work Ombudsman as an observer, considers the evidence and decides any follow up corrective action that needs to occur.

The applicant will receive a report outlining areas for improvement to achieve compliance and reduce modern slavery risk and risk of non-compliance with other relevant laws e.g. Fair Work Act, the National Employment Standards, the relevant Modern Award, the Migration Act, Workplace Health and Safety legislation, etc.

When certification is obtained, the building manager is given a toolkit for ongoing compliance, which details a schedule and guidance for regular checks to take place between the building manager and the cleaning contractor representatives at the building.

Stakeholders in CAF building certification participate in annual health checks throughout the lifetime of certification. At annual health checks, stakeholders are required to demonstrate ongoing compliance monitoring and enforcement over the preceding 12 months. The CAF annual health check also involves repetition of the CAF worker engagement process – meetings with cleaners, CAF survey of cleaners, investigation and remediation of any issues raised by cleaners. At annual health checks, and periodically throughout the three-year certification period, assessment of compliance is also made by the CAF Representative, a cleaner elected by their peers to represent and advocate on behalf of other cleaners at the building, providing reporting entities with regular direct worker-driven feedback on any issues that could pose a risk of worker exploitation.

Key to this ongoing compliance monitoring process is the continuous elevation of worker voices, discussed in more detail below. CAF Representatives5 play a key role here as they educate fellow workers on the CAF Standard and how to raise issues; liaise regularly with their employer and the lead entity (i.e. building owner/manager) on ongoing CAF compliance; and consult with the union, CAF and other CAF Representatives to continuously develop their leadership and monitoring skills.

The UNGPs expect that businesses will publicly communicate how they address their human rights impacts. Your modern slavery statement and other sustainability reporting mechanisms are avenues for this.6

Social Audit X 2

Recognising the limits of social auditing

Social auditing generally refers to the process an entity will go through either in relation to its own operations or those of its suppliers to verify compliance with human rights standards. These standards might relate to well-established global standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, specific standards such as the CAF 3 Star Standard, or will be outlined in an entity’s code of conduct or ethical sourcing policy.

Typically, a social audit will involve interviews and surveys with management and employees; assessment of any entity policies, procedures and statements related to labour and human rights; and employee-related document audits (i.e. time and wages check, employment contract check etc.) and in some cases, physical workplace inspections.

While social audits play a role in human rights due diligence, they are designed to be one tool in a broader suite of processes to encourage lead firm and supplier compliance with labour and human rights standards.

+ View an outline of limitations to social audits

  • Audits are widely recognised as ineffective tools for detecting and remediating labour violations in supply chains (e.g. Rana Plaza factory building collapse in 2013 that killed over 1000 workers and was given a clean audit report days before)
  • Audits can be subject to manipulation and deception (e.g. Fair Work Ombudsman Inquiry into 7-Eleven)
  • Potential for conflicts of interest with the entity commissioning the audit and the auditor
  • Audits are a point-in-time snapshot and tend to take on a short checklist quality 
  • Social auditors often do not have real-life experience in the field in which they are auditing (e.g. auditors that have not been a cleaner themselves/interacted with cleaners or their representatives on a regular basis will not fully understand the context/intricacies of when and how issues arise, meaning things can slip through the cracks).
  • Workers involved in social audits are often vulnerable workers reluctant to speak up due to a well-founded fear of retribution. Social audits are not focused on or sufficiently able to build trust and community among vulnerable workers as they are short-term actions, meaning victims of modern slavery will remain hidden.
  • Social audits are often focused on the supplier which can identify symptoms of labour exploitation (i.e. wage underpayment) but does not address the root cause (i.e. poor procurement practices). This then becomes a band-aid solution and continues to put workers at risk of exploitation and modern slavery.
  • On worker voice tools: “The kind of “worker voice” tools that are designed to complement social auditing – instead of challenging the status quo – are structurally unable to fulfill their promise of empowering workers to improve their own labor conditions, because they do not provide workers with protected and collective mechanisms through which they can demand respect for their rights and improvements to their wages and conditions of work without fear of reprisal.” 

In consideration of the above, business and human rights experts argue that “The current model of social auditing promotes a coercive culture that encourages cheating and corruption and reinforces underlying power asymmetries. Workers, unions, NGOs and other stakeholders who might counteract these issues and shed light on violations tend not to be meaningfully involved in the process.

Social Audit Plus

CAF’s approach: Elevating the voice of workers in supply chains

CAF takes a more holistic approach by combining social audits, meaningful worker engagement, and education and training for the whole supply chain. CAF Certification involves a process to promote good labour practices, correct poor labour practices, and to educate and support workers to identify and raise labour rights violations. Our model is based on worker-driven social responsibility (WSR) which is a relatively new concept but one that is fast gaining traction globally as best-practice human rights due diligence. Engaging workers is critical to managing modern slavery risk in your supply chain as they are your eyes and ears on the ground.

+ Responsible supply chain standards

The CAF 3 Star Standard has been developed in consultation with business, government, academics and most importantly, workers. This is important as some ethical sourcing policies and codes of conduct are drafted with no-minimal input from workers therefore weakening any positive impacts on workers as a result of social audits that are conducted on these frameworks.

+ Top of supply chain responsibility

CAF certification is driven by the top of the supply chain thereby addressing the root causes of exploitation and modern slavery. Engaging CAF as an independent third party disrupts the traditional power dynamic in the supply chain where we, together with the union, can talk to workers without them having a direct threat of dismissal or punishment. We also require the top of the supply chain to take more responsibility for conduct throughout the supply chain which is typically outsourced to the supplier and can be covered up.

+ Whole of supply chain assessment

While there are inherent flaws with audits, they are still useful tools at uncovering compliance issues within a supply chain. Most audits focus on the business practices of suppliers, to the exclusion of those of the procurer.  CAF has screened and trained auditors to undertake robust supply chain audits that focus on known problem areas within the cleaning industry, including the employment practices of the cleaning company, but also the procurement and management process. We have also developed our own unique audit methodology in consultation with independent auditors, compliance officers from the Fair Work Ombudsman and industrial officers from the United Workers Union.

+ Worker participation, capacity building, and representation

Our unique Worker Engagement Protocol is focused on worker participation rather than worker interviews. We combine one-on-one interactions and group interactions (both in person and online) to obtain accurate information and to build confidence and capacity within the target workforce to monitor and enforce their labour rights. Our approach recognises that building trust with vulnerable workers takes time but that doing so will enable them to speak more freely about workplace issues. In addition, we require and equip other supply chain participants such as building managers to also build trust with workers, creating an even more transparent and safe environment for vulnerable workers. CAF worker engagement brings workers together to talk about conditions. Building community amongst the workforce is essential to mitigating the risk of modern slavery and exploitation – vulnerable workers will be more likely to speak up if they feel supported by a collective, rather than raising a concern as an individual, out of a well-founded fear that they will be dismissed from their job or moved off-site.

CAF works with the union representing property services workers, United Workers Union, when directly engaging with workers and other stakeholders involved in CAF Certification. This adds credibility to the certification scheme as the union officials involved are often former property services workers themselves, have expert insight into the industry and worker conditions, and the union provides a structure for workers to stand together and advocate collectively. CAF’s worker engagement assessments are drafted in consultation with union officials, ensuring that workers have a genuine role in the assessment.

+ Ongoing compliance

CAF Certification requires ongoing compliance with the CAF 3 Star Standard from all entities within the supply chain at certified buildings, not just at the point of certification. Ongoing compliance is achieved through a program of regular monitoring of labour standards (CAF ongoing compliance checks by the building manager), and by continuous worker education and empowerment (cleaners supported by their union). CAF Representatives⁵ play a key role here as they educate fellow workers on the CAF Standard and how to raise issues; liaise regularly with their employer and the lead entity (i.e. building owner/manager) on ongoing CAF compliance; and consult with the union, CAF and other CAF Representatives to continuously develop their leadership and monitoring skills. 

1Outlined in UNGPs 17 – 20
2You can read more about human rights due diligence in the Government’s Modern Slavery Guidance (pp.46-47) and in the UNGPs, Principles 17-21 https://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/guidingprinciplesbusinesshr_en.pdf
3UNGP 18 Commentary
4UNGP 20
5A CAF Representative is a worker (cleaner) that has been selected by their peers, the union and CAF on the basis that they best represent workers’ interests. The CAF Representative cannot be in a position of management (supervisor, manager). The CAF Representative receives training, support and an allowance to carry out tasks designed to ensure ongoing compliance with the CAF Standard.
6UNGP 21

IMPORTANT: CAF Modern Slavery Guidance usage statement: This Guidance is intended for use by CAF Members only. Any unauthorised use, reproduction or distribution of the Guidance will be considered a breach of CAF Membership Terms & Conditions and may result in termination of CAF Membership. Reproduction or use of parts of the Guidance in CAF Members’ own material and statements is permitted however must be attributed to CAF and referenced accordingly. CAF highly recommends Members consult with CAF staff prior to publishing any CAF-related material to ensure accuracy.