Landlord Scentre Group has agreed to report on wage theft and the workload of employees after pressure from governance advocates who are increasing their focus on companies over workers’ rights.
After months of discussions with the Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), Scentre has buckled and will include details in its 2020 financial reports about processes for identifying and mitigating risks in its cleaning supply chains.
The health and safety of workers in shopping centres took on fresh urgency during the pandemic when a symptomatic cleaner caused a cluster of cases to spread from Melbourne’s Chadstone Shopping centre.
Scentre said it has processes in place to ensure workers are protected. “Each year, we continue to enhance and improve our disclosures and reporting as part of our commitment to being a responsible, sustainable business,” the company said.
The ACCR has a long history of lobbying at the retail landlord’s annual meetings for better reporting on worker issues.
The retail giant’s agreement will result in the ACCR withdrawing a planned shareholder resolution that would have called for additional reporting on the group’s cleaning contracts.
Scentre, the owner of Westfield shopping centres, is Australia’s largest retail landlord and one of the largest procurers of commercial cleaning services in Australia, an area identified as high risk for modern slavery.
Under the agreement, Scentre Group will disclose not just the processes for identifying and mitigating risks within their cleaning supply chains, but also how work, health and safety obligations are monitored and the efficacy of grievance mechanisms available to workers.
“It reflects the seriousness of wage theft in the cleaning sector, and also the added risk to the company, investors and consumers in a COVID environment if cleaners are underpaid and unable to access sick leave,” ACCR’s workers’ rights director Katie Hepworth said.
“Property owners are on notice. Investors want to know how they are meeting their obligations to cleaners and keeping us all safe.”
Scentre will report its 2020 full-year financial results later this month, but, hit by the COVID-19 fallout early last year, it reported a $3.6 billion interim loss in the first half of 2020.
Legislation introduced in 2019 in Australia requires large companies to report on modern slavery.
The pandemic, at its peak, gutted foot traffic in major shopping centres around the country, forcing many stores to close and putting significant pressure on landlords’ rental income from tenants.
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