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Opinion | It’s about people
There are rotten apples in the cleaning business. That much should be obvious to anyone after recent revelations that a number of cleaning companies have business practices that fail to live up to any sort of moral or legal standard. Given the revelations of cleaners forced to live in inhumane and slave-like conditions, it is completely appropriate that the Fraud Squad and tax officials start to have a closer look at the industry.
The question, though, is whether the responsibility lies with the companies with the dubious business practices or whether consumers, purchasers and politicians have a responsibility as well.
The underlying tone of the discussion is one of a distasteful ducking of blame. Companies and lawmakers alike have washed their hands of any responsibility for cleaning services purchased from contractors and sub-contractors at a local level. The message from one mayor after it was revealed that underpaid Romanians were cleaning his schools was that the problem was someone else’s.
Similarly, we have a state authority that in one instance asked a consultancy to evaluate the cost of a cleaning job before it was put out to tender. Then, the authority went and cut 40 million kroner off the value of the contract, reducing its value to an unrealistically low level. A contractor pointed out that such a low amount made it impossible to hire Danish employees, but to no avail.
We can’t continue passing the buck until it winds up with a subcontractor who finds cheap labour in Romania and then keeps them as slaves. We all have a responsibility because, in the end, it’s about people. You purchase a service, and if you keep reducing the value of contracts, the person it ultimately affects is the man with the mop in his hand.
Unfortunately, there are multiple examples of politicians and purchasers in the private and public sectors that are so focused on cost, they overlook the consequences it has for the employees on the floor. This is obviously a matter of trying to spend less on cleaning so we have more public funds to spend on caregivers, but that doesn’t change the fact that we have an obligation to treat people with respect.
When public sector purchasers, politicians at a local or state level, and private sector businesses buy cleaning services, they have a responsibility for the people that work for them – regardless of whether they work for you or a company you hire. Maybe not legally, but certainly morally.
The author is the managing director of ISS Facility Services and the chairman of the Danish Service Industries Federation (DI Service).