On Thursday 11 November president of the Australian Council Trade Union (ACTU), Michele O’Neil made several erroneous claims about Growcom’s Fair Farms program while on ABC’s RN Breakfast Show with Fran Kelly which were repeated in a subsequent ACTU media release.

While on the ABC program the president of the ACTU said that the Fair Farms program was not an independent verification program.

“The assertion that the Fair Farms program does not provide for any independent verification is incorrect,” Growcom chief executive officer Stephen Barnard said.   

“The pathway to certification or re-certification as a Fair Farm requires that the business undergo an independent third-party audit by an appropriately qualified Social Compliance Auditor.”

The Fair Farms program requires the audit firm and the auditor that conducts the audit to be members of the Association of Professional Social Compliance Auditors (APSCA)- a separate entity to the Fair Farms program.

ASPCA is an internationally recognised industry association representing the social compliance audit industry and is governed by a code, standards, and competency framework. It is independently validated.

The Fair Farms standard, against which employers are audited, is entirely grounded, and builds upon all relevant industrial relations and health and safety legislation at both state and national levels.

As well as saying that the program was not an independent verification program, Ms O’Neil also asserted that the Fair Farms program does not have the support of workers or unions, something that Mr Barnard said was also incorrect. 

“The Australian Workers Union was consulted when the program was being established and has been a member of the Fair Farms External Stakeholder Reference Group (ESRG) which also includes representatives of the major retailers and some of the audit firms that conduct Fair Farms audits,” he said.

“The AWU has not raised any concerns about the program at any meetings of the ESRG.

“There is no basis for the claim that the program does not have the support of workers.”

Ms O’Neil also asserted that the Fair Farms program was only about the horticulture industry trying to make itself look better.

“The program is not only about improving the way the horticulture industry is perceived by workers and the community at large,” Mr Barnard said.

“The program’s key objective is to lift employment practices across the Australian horticulture industry and to reduce the risk of worker exploitation.

“The programs standards and training modules were developed to help get farmers up to speed on legislative requirements and workplace health and safety laws set at both the state and national level for the primary benefit of the worker and the business.

“Fair Farms aims to achieve this through an industry-led assurance and independent third-party certification program designed to support participating growers and other supply chain members with their compliance to Australian labour laws and industry standards.”

Growcom’s Fair Farms program has the support of the Federal Government and Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia David Littleproud.

In a media release made in late October of this year announcing a $3.2 million investment by the government into the program, Minister Littleproud said that the funding for Fair Farms would help more horticulture producers get on board with the program.

“The Fair Farms program is there to help horticulture businesses do the right thing, both for their employees and their businesses,” Minister Littleproud said.

“We know that most farmers want to do the right thing by their workers but navigating employment and work health and safety regulations can be a struggle.

“Fair Farms was put together by Growcom to support all members of the Australian horticulture supply chain with the tools, information and training they need to be a compliant and ethical employer.

“I encourage anyone involved in the horticulture supply chain to look into this program.”

Fair Farms is just one of several existing independent certifications of ethical employment that the Federal Government is considering enabling employers to prove their suitability for engaging workers through the new Agriculture Visa.

For more information about Fair Farms visit fairfarms.com.au

Background:

Fair Farms is national initiative developed and implemented by Growcom, peak industry body for horticulture in Queensland, with support from the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment, and AUSVEG.

Fair Farms is an industry-led, national training and certification initiative that is cultivating fair and responsible employment practices in Australian horticulture. The program provides support and training to farm employers and a pathway to independent third-party audit and certification.