Building a Positive Workforce Through Indigenous Enterprise

Published on : 8/31/21
  • From humble beginnings, Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation (AAC) has become a leader among Australia’s Indigenous organisations, seizing entrepreneurial opportunities to deliver a wide range of benefits to the community through employment and investment in training.

    Steven Sonneman-Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation says: 

    Our partnership with Sodexo has had untold benefits due to their commitment to supporting Indigenous culture. It’s hard to believe that one conversation with the Sodexo team in 2019 could have resulted in such outcomes.”

    ACC was formed in 2000 to promote the interests of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Shire of Ashburton. From humble beginnings, AAC has grown to be a responsive and forward-thinking organisation, delivering a wide range of services to job seekers, Indigenous communities, and the broader Pilbara region.

    With its head office at Tom Price, and offices in Newman, Hedland, Onslow, Marble Bar and Perth, AAC owns and operates a number of enterprises, including Ashoil, Ashmulla Pastoral Company, Onslow Tyres and Mechanical Services, and Ashburton Distribution and Logistics.

    One of AAC’s focuses is on finding and creating culturally appropriate employment, education and training opportunities for Aboriginal people in the Pilbara.

    Sodexo became involved with AAC in 2016 and has supported the organisation in the growth of its fresh oil sales and maintenance of its biodiesel production through the provision of raw materials. When Sodexo required a mid-range bottle of water to complement its existing range of premium water products on-site, it looked to AAC. The result was a new brand of bottled water which celebrates Indigenous culture.

    Helen Slater, Indigenous Affairs Manager – West, Sodexo Australia says:

    An important focus for us as a business is to build long-term business connections which produce sustainable outcomes. We know that through supporting Yurrama Water and, more broadly, creating a partnership with AAC, Sodexo is enabling an increase in Indigenous employment and spend.”


    Sodexo’s support of AAC across its businesses has produced both economic and environmental outcomes. Sodexo’s first involvement with AAC was purchasing cooking oil. Since then, Sodexo has supported AAC’s growth by connecting the organisation with its own clients in Western Australia.

    A highlight has been AAC’s sale of biodiesel to one of Sodexo’s largest clients, which has replaced the purchase of 1.5 million litres of diesel fuel over nine years, equating to a reduction of more than 4,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

    Having this long history with AAC, and knowing its commitment to innovation, Sodexo had no hesitation engaging AAC when sourcing a new range of bottled water in early 2020. The company’s pre-launch commitment to purchase five pallets of Yurrama Water, an AAC product, was the boost the company needed to get started. The water is now supplied at Sodexo’s 38 mine sites across Western Australia. 

    group photo of Yurrama Water launching event

    Prior to Sodexo’s first sales of Yurrama Water in March 2020, AAC were averaging 2,000 cartons of water sold per month. This average quickly jumped 50 percent to 3,000 cartons within the first month of the partnership. As of March 2021, 12 months on, AAC’s monthly average is 10,000 cartons of water sold.

    Helen Slater says:

    Through these supply opportunities, Sodexo becomes an enabler to Indigenous businesses like AAC in supporting them to balance profit and purpose, and be instrumental in building a more inclusive and sustainable local economy”.

    Beyond direct sales, Sodexo’s partnership has enabled AAC to achieve a community impact through its sale of Yurrama Water, in particular through the Containers for Change recycling program. Some of these outcomes include: 

    • Profits from water sales directly supporting the setup and ongoing operations of the Containers for Change (CFC) recycling program in Tom Price
    • Refunds from CFC have benefited local charities while promoting recycling
    • CFC has created eight jobs for long-term unemployed jobseekers in Tom Price, with three of these employees being onboarded in full time career roles
    • The CFC recycling program has created a mentored paid work experience program for jobseekers
    • CFC has removed over 1.5 million plastic, glass and aluminium containers from landfill
    • AAC has been able to donate pallets of water to support communities during COVID-19 lockdown periods, as well as to sporting events and not for profit functions, such as Hedland Well Women’s fundraisers and Rowans Walk against youth suicide


    AAC is committed to supporting Indigenous youth to develop skills which enable them to contribute positively in the workplace, with each of its enterprises funding Indigenous employment programs.

    One key area of focus is supporting young people to learn skills in agriculture within the Pilbara region. The aim is for these opportunities to come ‘full circle’, meaning these men and women will contribute back in the long-term through selling product from farms back into communities or corporates. For example, in 2020, AAC funded the wages of a trainee on a cattle station.

    Sodexo is proud to see that sales from Yurrama Water will result in more funds invested in Indigenous employment programs, which is a vital step towards reconciliation.

    Samuel Hampson, Sourcing Manager Sodexo Australia says:

    Building a robust and effective supply chain is a major challenge for any business, particularly when operating across remote and geographically-dispersed sites. We're proud to work with high-quality Indigenous suppliers such as AAC, who demonstrate their commitment to working in partnership with our team time and again."


    Sodexo, global leader in quality of life services, approached the opportunity to work with AAC as a partnership, to ensure a positive community impact.

    Sodexo’s support of AAC and purchase of Yurrama Water is a key action of its Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan where the company has committed to investing in Indigenous-owned businesses.

    Sodexo recognised that AAC was committed to helping people enjoy better quality of life, which is aligned with Sodexo’s mission which it strives for each day in the delivery of services.

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