Labour rights as human rights : workers' safety at work in Australian-based supply chains

Harpur, Paul David (2009) Labour rights as human rights : workers' safety at work in Australian-based supply chains. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The increase of buyer-driven supply chains, outsourcing and other forms of non-traditional employment has resulted in challenges for labour market regulation. One business model which has created substantial regulatory challenges is supply chains. The supply chain model involves retailers purchasing products from brand corporations who then outsource the manufacturing of the work to traders who contract with factories or outworkers who actually manufacture the clothing and textiles. This business model results in time and cost pressures being pushed down the supply chain which has resulted in sweatshops where workers systematically have their labour rights violated. Literally millions of workers work in dangerous workplaces where thousands are killed or permanently disabled every year. This thesis has analysed possible regulatory responses to provide workers a right to safety and health in supply chains which provide products for Australian retailers.

This thesis will use a human rights standard to determine whether Australia is discharging its human rights obligations in its approach to combating domestic and foreign labour abuses. It is beyond this thesis to analyse Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws in every jurisdiction. Accordingly, this thesis will focus upon Australian domestic laws and laws in one of Australia’s major trading partners, the Peoples’ Republic of China (China).

It is hypothesised that Australia is currently breaching its human rights obligations through failing to adequately regulate employees’ safety at work in Australian-based supply chains. To prove this hypothesis, this thesis will adopt a three- phase approach to analysing Australia’s regulatory responses.

Phase 1 will identify the standard by which Australia’s regulatory approach to employees’ health and safety in supply chains can be judged. This phase will focus on analysing how workers’ rights to safety as a human right imposes a moral obligation on Australia to take reasonablely practicable steps regulate Australian-based supply chains. This will form a human rights standard against which Australia’s conduct can be judged.

Phase 2 focuses upon the current regulatory environment. If existing regulatory vehicles adequately protect the health and safety of employees, then Australia will have discharged its obligations through simply maintaining the status quo. Australia currently regulates OHS through a combination of ‘hard law’ and ‘soft law’ regulatory vehicles. The first part of phase 2 analyses the effectiveness of traditional OHS laws in Australia and in China. The final part of phase 2 then analyses the effectiveness of the major soft law vehicle ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR).

The fact that employees are working in unsafe working conditions does not mean Australia is breaching its human rights obligations. Australia is only required to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure human rights are realized.

Phase 3 identifies four regulatory vehicles to determine whether they would assist Australia in discharging its human rights obligations. Phase 3 then analyses whether Australia could unilaterally introduce supply chain regulation to regulate domestic and extraterritorial supply chains. Phase 3 also analyses three public international law regulatory vehicles. This chapter considers the ability of the United Nations Global Compact, the ILO’s Better Factory Project and a bilateral agreement to improve the detection and enforcement of workers’ right to safety and health.

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ID Code: 35793
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Butler, Desmond
Keywords: employee rights Australia, labor laws and legislation Australia, industrial safety Law and legislation Australia, business logistics Australia
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 22 Sep 2010 13:03
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2012 06:42

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