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CAF has found that 70% of labour rights violations are uncovered through worker engagement alone, as opposed to 30% through desk-based audits

Through CAF Certification we conduct whole of supply chain assessments. But did you know that is only one of a number of parts that make up the certification process? While the assessment involves examining procurement practices, contract management, and employment practices at a nominated building, cleaners are also a fundamental part of the assessment and beyond the assessment through our unique worker engagement mechanism. In addition, CAF supports other stakeholders at a CAF Certified site, such as a building manager and cleaning contractor, throughout the lifetime of certification taking us well beyond a point in time audit.

Building trust is the key to more accurate reporting and more timely remediation

Unlike the interview approach used in typical social auditing, CAF together with United Workers Union, conducts a unique process of worker engagement that focuses more on education and trust-building over time. We know there are serious issues in the cleaning industry; the challenge is getting cleaners to speak up and report them. There are a variety of reasons that contribute to cleaners’ fear of speaking up about issues in their workplace such as losing their job, losing hours, bullying and other forms of retribution. CAF’s approach to overcoming this is to empower and build ongoing relationships with cleaners to engender trust. This is where the union is key – often the union officials that work with CAF are former cleaners themselves, so are very knowledgeable about issues in the industry. They also speak the same languages as cleaners, effectively removing one barrier to reporting issues. Furthermore, by bringing cleaners together collectively to report issues at an annual meeting, cleaners feel safer speaking up in a group and often will encourage each other to report issues. Outside of this meeting, CAF Representatives, cleaners who are nominated by their workmates to receive additional training, act as their voice to raise workplace issues when they arise.

At a recent meeting, a CAF Representative said that cleaners at their site feel that worker engagement helps them to “have a voice [because] we can talk to management directly” and that there was “less stress and risk for cleaners in losing their job” if they do raise an issue.

Identifying violations

There are some workplace issues that can only ever be uncovered through worker engagement. CAF has found that bullying and harassment, discrimination, and dangerous workloads have never been identified through desk-based audits alone.

WE vs DeskAudit Table v2 01

As the above demonstrates, some issues can be identified through both audits and worker engagement. However, CAF has found that worker engagement identifies significantly more labour rights violations, such as underpayment and unsafe workloads.

Another element that is not apparent in the above figure but is equally important is that a number of historical issues come to light through worker engagement indicating the length of time it currently takes cleaners to feel comfortable speaking up. By focusing on trust-building through worker engagement, we are actively working to cut down the length of time it takes cleaners to report issues from the point at which they occur which is both beneficial to the cleaner and to the rest of the supply chain.

Commonplace examples to illustrate how desk-based audits miss violations

Unpaid overtime

Despite the fact that most buildings have biometric sign-in systems designed to minimise the risk of underpayment, CAF has found it common practice that cleaners are sometimes asked to sign-out on time but then return to the floor to continue working past the end of their shift. Moreover, these sign-in systems are intentionally rarely synced up with the payroll system, so unpaid overtime continues to be commonplace. It is only through worker engagement that these issues ever come to light.

Bullying and harassment

Most medium to large cleaning companies will have a range of employment policies and whistleblower mechanisms in place to address issues such as bullying and harassment. In CAF’s experience these policies and procedures are often wholly ineffective insofar as cleaners often will not use them in the first place and when they do, they often face reprisal which has a chilling effect on reporting. Through worker engagement, CAF in conjunction with United Workers Union, provide support to cleaners who report such issues to us and we are able to identify and address the contributing factors which may be fuelling the issues, such as under-resourced contracts, inadequate training, and unaccountable management structures.

If you’d like to step up your cleaning supply chain assessment, contact our Certification Team to start the conversation.

Cleaning Accountability Framework Inc.