Leaders Forum: Poonam Datar, CAF

INCLEAN chats to Cleaning Accountability Framework CEO Poonam Datar.

How was 2019 for CAF? What were the highlights? What were the challenges?

2019 was a landmark year for CAF. The CAF 3 Star Building Certification framework was officially launched in March. Alongside the March launch, we kicked off the first pilot of the CAF Contractor Prequalification framework with BIC Services, Consolidated Property Services and ISS Facility Management. All three are now prequalified against version 3 of the 3 Star Standard.

October saw the inaugural CAF training sessions take place, starting with CAF compliance training for building managers, followed by the first CAF representative training. Based on the success of these training sessions, CAF will offer further training in 2020, also together with our partners.

To date we have certified 18 buildings against our 3 Star Standard and have improved working conditions for more than 800 cleaners at CAF-certified buildings across Australia.

This is an incredible achievement for the property owners, building managers, cleaning contractors and cleaners who have been involved in CAF building certification.

One of the major challenges (and opportunities) has been the increased focus on social compliance particularly following the enactment of the Modern Slavery Act. Many organisations are already well on the way in terms of understanding their social footprint, however, this is still largely unchartered territory and one where collaboration is proving critical.

What will be the immediate focus for CAF in 2020?

CAF has three key focus areas for 2020:

  • Uptake of building certification;
  • Launch of the Contractor Prequalification framework; and
  • Development of a CAF framework for retail stores.

CAF has been working hard the past few months to assist stakeholders make the most of building certification.

We’ve done this through partnerships with organisations such as GRESB, GBCA and the Supply Chain Sustainability School.We have also been working on guidance to assist relevant entities report on CAF certification as part of their modern slavery statements.

We look to expand on this work over 2020 and assist more stakeholders achieve CAF certification. Following extensive testing over 2019-20, CAF plans to launch our Contractor Prequalification framework in 2020.

In 2019, Woolworths and CAF came together to commence work developing a CAF for retail stores. The first step has been to engage wider stakeholders, like how the commercial office and retail mall frameworks have been development.

The retail stores framework will cover store cleaners, as well as starting work on trolley collecting. 2020 will see the development of the framework, processes and tools with a view to commencing a pilot in the second half of the year.

What challenges and opportunities do you see for CAF looking ahead to 2020?

One of the strengths of our framework is that we don’t do “tick and flick” reporting – a CAF assessment is a deep dive into the cleaning supply chain’s performance against minimum legal and regulatory obligations, as well as advising how conditions for workers can be improved at each site.

Following this process, CAF works hand in hand with the property owners, building managers and cleaning contractors at a building to guide them through the investigation and remediation of compliance issues, with a key focus on proactive risk mitigation. This is designed to create sustainable change for cleaners.

We are effectively helping to build a culture of compliance where all the right conditions are in place for cleaners to be treated fairly, and for them to be able to raise issues when they arise, so that non-compliance can be addressed swiftly.

That doesn’t come without its challenges. The follow up can add to the workloads of those on the ground implementing CAF – workloads that are often already overloaded – and for whom social compliance has not been built into their job description.

However, by working across the supply chain we have been able to identify and remediate many issues including underpayment, bullying, and unsafe work, and in the process have built strong relationships with stakeholders who champion CAF inside and out of their organisations.

In 2020, we’ll be continuing our work with stakeholders to better support those implementing CAF at their workplace through training, tools and ongoing interaction.

What do you expect will be the big trends of 2020?

Next year will see many companies deliver their first modern slavery statements under the Modern Slavery Act. Entities who have completed their first assessment will have likely identified cleaning as a high-risk industry, particularly if most of their operations and suppliers are based in Australia.

In many organisations, the responsibility for addressing these risks falls to a mix of procurement, sustainability, risk, legal and operations experts, many of whom will have little to no social auditing experience.

This is expected given the social auditing space in Australia remains relatively small and emerging. While there is currently a shortage of trained social auditors, increased interest in social (and payroll) compliance is likely to further develop this industry.

CAF is one of the few organisations leading the way in social auditing, and we are looking forward to the growth of this industry.

However, one trend we hope to see develop alongside social auditing in 2020 is organisations understanding the need to invest in follow up on audit findings which can often be more challenging than the audit itself.

What key issues should the industry be discussing in 2020?

Much of the conversation at the top end of the supply chain is focused on modern slavery at the moment, and while it provides a useful starting point for thinking about dignity at work, we think it is useful to flip the problem: the opposite of modern slavery is decent work.

Decent work means all workers have a right to fair pay, safe and secure work, to be free from coercion, discrimination, and any form of abuse.

The best way to address modern slavery risk in the cleaning industry in Australia is for all supply chain stakeholders to look at how their business decisions can facilitate respect of existing laws, and to provide pathways for cleaners to speak up.

As more stakeholders go through the CAF process multiple times, we are seeing the fear of being caught out for non-compliance dissipating.

When combined with genuine efforts of remediation, this is crucial for effecting real and lasting positive change for workers. Over 2020, the industry should continue to encourage transparency and accountability both from within their own business, but also of their suppliers.

What is one issue you think the industry should urgently address in 2020?

One of the top issues that we have consistently identified through CAF audits is underpayment of cleaners. This is a known, systemic, industry-wide issue which needs to be addressed immediately.

We know this is largely driven by contract price cutting and is symptomatic of an industry that has been working on cut-throat margins for far too long.

While CAF exists to resolve this issue by working with the top of the supply chain to promote fair contract pricing, we can only do so much.

This practice can no longer be facilitated or tolerated by procurers or tenderers and we would like to see an industry wide commitment and action to fix this problem – let’s make this happen in 2020.

Is there a message you would like to share with the industry?

We want to recognise and thank all stakeholders who have been involved in CAF – it hasn’t been an easy journey; however, our combined efforts have had a demonstrable impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable workers in Australia.

CAF is receiving due recognition both locally and internationally for our innovative approach to social compliance. There is a lot to be proud of, and we look forward to another big year in 2020.

Read INCLEAN’s inaugural Industry Leaders Forum Report in the January/February issue of INCLEAN magazine. 

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