Impacts of COVID-19 on human rights

Wesfarmers’ response to the unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19 reflects the hard work and dedication of our 107,000 team members and leaders to support our customers, suppliers and local communities.

Wesfarmers reaffirms our respect of human rights during the COVID-19 crisis in our operations and supply chain.

The policies and frameworks that support the Group’s day-to-day operations require that we respect and safeguard all universally recognised human rights both in our operations and supply chain.

In our operations

Wesfarmers has identified the residual risk of human rights violations in Wesfarmers operations as low. The Group's divisions monitor and address human rights issues in their operations under Wesfarmers Code of Conduct and Inclusion Policy. Senior management in each of the Wesfarmers divisions is responsible for ensuring that these policies are upheld, and human rights are respected.

As the COVID-19 crisis began to unfold in early 2020 COVID-19 response teams were set up with the most senior managers across the Group. These teams identified protecting the health and safety of our team members and customers, while supporting government efforts to limit the spread of the virus as the highest priority. This unrelenting focus put the human rights impacts related to COVID-19 in our own operations front and centre of the company’s response.

All our businesses put in place measures to protect the health and safety of team members and customers. In our retail businesses, these included measures to support physical distancing, the introduction of Perspex protective screens, increased cleaning in addition to ‘deep cleans’, limiting customer numbers in-store, providing additional hand washing stations with sanitiser and restricting in-store activities like fitting rooms, cafes and playgrounds.

Across all our businesses and distribution centres, new processes were put in place including workforce planning to prevent overlap of team rosters and greater use of personal protective equipment.

Team members were asked to work from home where they could, and many continue to do so. Team members who work from home are provided with the appropriate equipment including technology to ensure they can continue to work effectively while out of their usual working environments.

The Group provided two weeks of paid pandemic leave to permanent and casual team members required to self-isolate or care for others. When trading restrictions were imposed, we incurred substantial extra costs to keep our team members and customers safe; we continued to pay our suppliers on time; and we extended additional financial support to our community not-for-profit partners which saw significant impacts to revenue. In Australia, Wesfarmers did not receive material government support payments and is not currently part of the federal government’s JobKeeper program. In New Zealand, where the shutdowns were more severe and our stores were closed, any government support was passed straight through to our affected team members. Finally, after the close of the 2020 financial year, we announced that during the shutdown of our businesses in Victoria, we would continue to pay full wages if they were stood down to team members who are permanent or who work more than 12 hours a week, as casuals.

These and other measures give income and job security to team members at highly uncertain times, while ensuring a safe operating environment for other team members and customers. 

Importantly, we are increasing our focus on team member wellbeing and mental health. We have expanded access to our employee assistance programs to include the families of team members and introduced mental health programs to provide additional mental health resources to support team members during the challenges of COVID-19.

We introduced additional protections for our most vulnerable workers including team members over the age of 70 and team members self-identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

We consulted with a wide range of groups including government, public health officials, representatives of workers, local communities and vulnerable groups in forming and refining our response to COVID-19.

In our supply chain

Ethical sourcing has been a key area of focus for the Wesfarmers Group for almost a decade and COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of investing in strong, sustainable supply chains.

The Group has identified that the disruptions caused by COVID-19 present emerging human rights risks in its supply chains including increased risk to worker health and exploitation of vulnerable people in key sourcing countries.

Throughout the year, Wesfarmers continued to engage fairly with our suppliers, sourcing ethically and sustainably despite the challenges of COVID-19. The Group maintained business continuity and payment terms with suppliers. In cases of hardship we supported suppliers through accelerated payment, acknowledging the critical role that our suppliers play in helping us meet the needs of customers.

Remedy and grievance mechanisms

The Wesfarmers Ethical Sourcing and Modern Slavery Policy sets minimum standards expected of our suppliers in regard to freedom of association, grievance mechanisms and recourse. This is especially important during the COVID-19 crisis where workers may wish to raise human rights complaints or concerns. Our policy stipulates that representatives should not be discriminated against and should have regular access to company management or appropriate processes in order to address grievances and other issues. Suppliers must have a policy in place for workers to approach management on issues of concern, on their own or through worker representatives, confidentially.

Bunnings piloted a supply chain grievance mechanism, 'Speak Up', in collaboration with a strategic supplier. Speak Up is free for suppliers and is a confidential service available to workers 24 hours a day, providing a channel for workers to raise concerns during the pandemic. The continued focus for FY21 is to increase the number of manufacturing sites involved in the program.

Governance and policies

All divisions provide updates to their divisional boards on the steps they are taking to manage the COVID-19 related human rights risks in their supply chains. The Wesfarmers Audit and Risk Committee, a sub committee of the Wesfarmers Board, has specific oversight for human rights and this includes receiving briefings on COVID-19 related human rights risks.


All retail divisions have dedicated ethical sourcing teams in place to proactively manage ethical sourcing and modern slavery risks. WesCEF  has included responsibility for ethical sourcing management in existing roles. Merchandise and procurement team members responsible for managing supplier relationships remain central to the approach taken in all divisions in the management of ethical sourcing and modern slavery risks. 

Kmart Group has teams in Bangladesh, China and India; Blackwoods has a team in China; and Workwear Group has teams in India, Bangladesh and China. Having in-country teams helps our businesses to understand potential ethical sourcing and modern slavery risks and build strong links with suppliers, government and non-government organisations in the countries they source from.

Risk assessment and due diligence

As the COVID-19 crisis began to unfold in early 2020, these teams identified and assessed the immediate human rights risks and impacts related to COVID in their supply chains through working collaboratively with industry peers and with their suppliers.  These risks assessments found that workers already at risk such as migrant workers and women, would be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Capacity building initiatives and other assistance 

Divisions undertook the following initiatives in the early stages of the pandemic with more initiatives planned to manage the expected longer-term risks:

Bunnings – provided suppliers with access to Supply Chain Finance (SCF) payment options, allowing suppliers greater control of payment terms, and if required, to accelerate receivables cash flow. Bunnings offered suppliers financial support to cover the cost of a 12-month ‘B’ Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) membership for tier one (the primary site of manufacturing) manufacturing sites. Bunnings paid for the membership fees of 143 factories;

Kmart Group and Workwear Group – endorsed the ‘ COVID-19: Action in the Global Garment Industry’ call-to-action which aims to drive progress across the global garment industry to protect workers’ income, health and employment and establish sustainable systems of social protection for a more just and resilient garment industry;

Kmart and Target partnered with ELEVATE to organise webinars for suppliers, focusing on the preventive health and safety measures for factories to implement before resuming operation;

Blackwoods partnered with Sedex to organise webinars for suppliers, focusing on the preventive health and safety measures for factories to implement before resuming operation;

Officeworks – has maintained regular communication with local and international suppliers, including issuing supplier guidance with suggested measures to reduce health, safety and hygiene risk among vulnerable workers. In addition, worker surveys were conducted at selected sites to gain a greater insight of the impact COVID-19 is having on workers.

Across our supply chains, new COVID-related challenges are continuing to emerge, and the divisions are working to manage them, as they arise. We recognise that risks likely increase with time and that virtual and or digital strategies to manage these risks are being reviewed in-light of government closures of borders and increased restriction of movement, limiting the ability to perform on-site assessments in some locations. The divisions are exploring new and creative ways to manage these risks including working with in country teams where they have them and working collaboratively with industry peers. 

We will continue to engage third parties to perform independent assessments of our processes and procedures to assess the effectiveness of our response to COVID-19 and make improvements.

GRI 102-9, GRI 102-10, GRI 102-15, GRI 102-16, GRI 103-1, GRI 103-2, GRI 103-3, GRI 407-1, GRI 408-1, GRI 409-1, GRI 412-1, GRI 412-2, GRI 414