Australia: Investors withdraw human rights resolution at Woolworths after company commitment

Resolution, which was not backed by advisory firms, forces change at retailer

Australian retailer Woolworths has avoided a shareholder resolution on its human rights safeguards by committing to a raft of measures in the wake of investor pressure over its supply-chain practices.

The company made the commitments in a stock exchange statement today (November 22), just a day before its annual meeting where there was a shareholder resolution on the issue — which has now been withdrawn by proponents the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) and LUCRF Super.

The company commits “to working collaboratively with the National Union of Workers (NUW) and other interested stakeholders, to identify and address human rights risks in fresh food supply chains in Australia”.

The 90,000-member union said the move meant the company had taken a big step towards “eradicating exploitation and wage theft”.

Woolworths said the agreement includes:

– Working with the NUW to make sure that labour providers comply with labour and human rights standards

– Education on workplace rights, access to a grievance mechanism and other protections.

NUW National Secretary Tim Kennedy, who chairs the LUCRF Super fund, said the Bella Vista-based company was “acknowledging the extent and seriousness of the problem of exploitation on Australian farms”.Speaking to RI last week, Kennedy, who anticipated the agreement with Woolworths, said: “We’ve demonstrated that shareholder resolutions can have big impact in the Australian jurisdiction and that active ownership through our pension funds can do good things”.

“We’ve demonstrated that shareholder resolutions can have big impact in the Australian jurisdiction”

He continued, “I don’t think we would have got this movement, if we hadn’t got this resolution forward, and we wouldn’t have got this resolution forward in Australia without these pension funds, which have equal representation of workers and employers on them, and if they weren’t the size that they were.”

The resolution was opposed by proxy advisory ISS and Glass Lewis, which both advised shareholders to vote against it, saying Woolworths’ current policies and practices were sufficient.

It comes as investor body ACSI has called for an ‘ordinary’ shareholder proposal system.