Some of Australia’s biggest food producers have pledged to improve the way in which they operate, in a new commitment made by trade body the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA).
The alliance, which represents companies such as the Freshmax Group, Pinata Farms, and the Fresh Produce Group, announced last week it will work "to ensure that industry complies with relevant laws and standards of sustainable and ethical employment.”
As part of this, the AFPA wants to improve industry labour practices and ethical auditing programmes through better management and regulation.
Michael Rogers, CEO at AFPA, said: “We are focused on improving the sector’s employment practices and reputation. This is particularly important under the new Modern Slavery Act 2018, which addresses responsibility throughout the supply chain.”
The trade body’s members represent half the AUS$9.1 billion annual turnover of the Australian fresh produce sector, employing more than 22,000 workers between them.
While the majority of full time employees are Australian, a significant proportion of those working in temporary roles come via the Pacific Seasonal Worker Scheme or are on Working Holiday Makers visas.
“Due to the time sensitive and seasonal nature of harvesting fresh produce, it is vitally important that growers have access to a workforce that is mobile and readily available to harvest crops to optimise returns based on the seasonal nature of fresh produce production,” Rogers commented.
He added: “As a major employer in regional and rural Australia of both local and temporary migrant workers, it is vitally important that we create a culture of active management by improving the sector’s employment practices and reputation, including proactively meeting all employment and duty of care obligations.”
More than 1,000 growers are represented by the trade body, which is also seeking to improve the communication between individual ethical auditing programmes, to reduce unnecessary multiple audits and lower the costs of associated record keeping and compliance.
Rogers said: “While farmers are working to meet all requirements, it is also essential that consistent regulation and certification of labour hire companies is implemented. This will make sure all industry players are meeting the required standards. It should be accompanied by an increase in the number of approved third-party auditors to ensure compliance.”