With the theme of this year’s Human Rights Day being Freedom, Equality and Justice for All, we spoke to Mardee Job, our Horticulture Responsible Sourcing Specialist, about Woolworths Group’s Human Rights Program and how we work together with our fruit and vegetable suppliers, such as our long-time partners, Barden Farms, to achieve a better tomorrow for all.
Woolworths Group is committed to acting responsibly and upholding respect for human rights throughout our supply chain. What are some of the key expectations we have as a business when it comes to how human rights are upheld and respected throughout the supply chain?
MJ: Every business may be at a different point in their journey, however, there are some baseline activities that can help every business to identify processes and systems to uphold workers' rights.
Woolworths Group’s Human Rights Program, known to suppliers as the Responsible Sourcing Program, asks suppliers to meet the Policy and Standards, which align to international standards for workers’ rights.
To enable the program to come to life, Woolworths Group utilises self-assessment questionnaires and third party social compliance audits, both of which are managed by independent third party schemes. There are a number of these schemes globally and Woolworths Group has performed quality assessments to advise suppliers on which schemes are recommended. All of Woolworths Group’s fruit & vegetable suppliers are engaged with a scheme, and we have worked with a significant number of our supplier partners to complete a social compliance audit.
What do you think Woolworths Group does particularly well in this space and how do we ensure the human rights of people in our supply chains are respected?
MJ: Prior to working for Woolworths, I was working for a fruit and vegetable business that supplied the major retailers. As a supplier, in the business's Technical Compliance Team, I was used to receiving requests from our customers, working to understand and then comply with them. Since joining Woolworths Group a year-and-a-half ago, I have been pleasantly surprised time and time again with how diligently Woolworths Group stands true to their values to ‘listen and learn’, ‘care deeply’ and ‘do the right thing’, internally and with suppliers.
The Woolworths Group’s Human Rights Program has been developed through listening to suppliers and stakeholders, and being transparent with improvement areas and challenges.
Woolworths Group’s aim is not just to seek compliance by suppliers, we truly want to uphold the human rights of workers in the supply chain, seeking to adapt and change the program when needed to ensure that the aim is not compromised.
A testament to this is the creation of my role, which is to provide support to businesses that supply fruit and vegetable products to Woolworths Supermarkets in helping them understand and identify risks to workers’ rights in their businesses and supply chains, while also being their advocate within Woolworths Group and with industry stakeholders to ensure Woolworths Group’s Human Rights Program and industry frameworks are relevant and effective for their businesses.
What are our key focus/strategic areas?
MJ: Woolworths Group commends and celebrates their fruit and vegetable trade partners that have developed their own programs and processes to verify that human rights are being upheld in their operations, and also to identify improvement areas.
We envision this for all our trade partners, and are committed to listening and providing support to help them achieve this.
I have been pleasantly surprised time and time again with how diligently Woolworths Group stands true to their values to ‘listen and learn’, ‘care deeply’ and ‘do the right thing’, internally and with suppliers.
Can you tell us how important it is to have ethical and mutually beneficial partnerships with suppliers such as Barden Farms?
MJ: Barden Farms and Woolworths Supermarkets have been in trade partnership for 30 years, supplying us with leafy vegetables, brassica and herbs across Australia from their farms in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania.
Woolworths Group proudly chooses to work with Barden Farms as they have not only maintained supply of top-quality produce but have diligently engaged with Woolworths Group’s Responsible Sourcing Program since its inception. Barden Farms has grown with us as we learn together what effective business operations support a happy workforce, and ethical supply chain.
Barden Farms welcomed me on their Gatton farm earlier this year. It was a pleasure to meet the team face-to-face, and see the operations of the farm.
Marie Exelby, the Human Resources Manager, has prepared Barden Farms Gatton for yearly third party social audits. She says these audits have been instrumental to shaping their own human rights due diligence strategy.
How can we as a Group continue to create positive change and influence?
MJ: Since the creation of the Woolworths Group Human Rights Program, the business has been transparent about what has worked well, and what has not worked well. This has led to partnerships with suppliers, industry stakeholders, NGOs and government. Without these partnerships, the program wouldn’t be as effective as it is.
The effectiveness of the program relies on our suppliers and industry stakeholders to be transparent with us in return. We take the rights of workers in our horticulture supply chain very seriously. We always act when a worker’s rights aren't being upheld.
We are committed to always partner with businesses in order to remediate issues identified, recognising that we don’t always get it right ourselves.
The goal is the wellbeing of each worker, and only by working and learning together, business to business, will we be able to address the root causes that have led to a workers’ rights not being upheld.
What are some of the challenges we face in 2024?
MJ: One of the key challenges fruit and vegetable farmers face is engaging labour hire providers that are compliant with Australian laws and regulations, and ensure they are upholding their workers’ rights.
There is a range of experience and expertise across the industry when running a labour hire business, and for those who engage such businesses to source labour.
Woolworths Group is advocating at multiple levels and through multiple avenues to establish a level playing field for labour hire businesses, while also simplifying how businesses’ do due diligence to identify indicators that workers’ rights are not being upheld by a labour provider.
Read more on Woolworths Group's Human Rights Program here.