Photo by Verne Ho on Unsplash

It’s been a long time coming and taken months of work but finally Scentre Group, which owns and manages Westfield shopping centres, has agreed to disclose its workplace agreements with cleaners.

The cleaning sector in shopping centres, and also offices, is one that’s been plagued for years by concerns about long hours, underpayment and lack of job security.

At one stage several years ago media reports saidoffice cleaners regularly cleaned the equivalent of 11 homes a night.

During Covid, it got worse.

Now thanks to an agreement brokered by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), Scentre will disclose not just the processes for identifying and mitigating risks within its cleaning supply chains, the ACCR says, but also “how work, health and safety obligations are monitored and the efficacy of grievance mechanisms available to workers.”

In return for the agreement, the ACCR won’t now put forward a shareholder resolution at Scentre Group’s upcoming AGM calling for additional reporting on its cleaning contracts.

The agreement 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,” the ACCR said.

According to director of workers’ rights for the organisation, Dr Katie Hepworth, investors are increasingly taking a strong interest in the field.

Dr Hepworth told The Fifth Estate that her team was engaging with top property owners of shopping centres and office buildings and looking to benchmark outcomes.

The program started at the beginning of 2020 with Covid highlighting the risks.

“The big focus was on cleaning, which we followed through in 2020.”

Throughout the pandemic the program included a number of investor briefings and webinars with investors around concerns of exposure to workers rights risks, she said.

“This has built into more forceful engagement with companies to protect cleaners and also security staff.”

Other companies the ACCR was engaging with include Vicinity Centres and Dexus.

Among those with the best reputation was ISPT.

“ISPT is held up as leaders in this sector with their staff.”

Scentre Group, the ACCR says, is the “one of the largest procurers of commercial cleaning services in Australia, which has been identified as a high-risk sector for modern slavery.

Since 1 January, companies with turnover of $100 million or more are obliged to report on seven key criteria on how they manage their supply chains.

Dr Hepworth said Scentre Group had not signed up to the Cleaning Accountability Framework (CAF), recommended by the regulator, the Australian Council for Superannuation Investors (ACSI), Australian Super and CBUS Property to prevent wage theft and modern slavery in the sector.

But in the absence of CAF membership the new agreement by “provides additional disclosures on the due diligence it performs on its cleaning supply chains”.