Modern Slavery legislation called for

WelCom December 2020 Michael Fitzsimons A submission from Trade Aid calls for a Modern Slavery Act in New Zealand to support businesses to rid their supply chains of modern slavery. …

WelCom December 2020

Michael Fitzsimons

A submission from Trade Aid calls for a Modern Slavery Act in New Zealand to support businesses to rid their supply chains of modern slavery. 

The submission is supported by Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, Talitha Kum and a number of other NGOs. Talitha Kum is an international network of Religious working against human trafficking and exploitation.

The Trade Aid submission calls for increased urgency in dealing with this issue and says New Zealand ‘is lagging behind other countries’ in this area. 

‘New Zealand is a country with an image of fairness and equity, and its lack of progress in this area is at odds with this identity.’

The submission calls for the immediate investigation of ‘the best legislation to suit our unique New Zealand context’.

The submission on the Draft Plan of Action against Forced Labour, People Trafficking and Slavery 2020–2025 was made to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). The Draft plan, which was published in 2009 and is now being updated, includes the action to ‘consider introducing legislation requiring businesses to report publicly on transparency in supply chains, to help eliminate practices of modern slavery.’

Michelia Miles, Development and Education Manager, Trade Aid.

This action needs to be strengthened and made a priority, says Michelia Miles, Development and Education Manager for Trade Aid.

‘The Plan of Action recognises that ‘New Zealanders may be unknowingly supporting this activity [modern slavery] through their purchase of goods and services’’. It is not ethical for a government that acknowledges its people and its businesses may unknowingly be procuring items that contain modern slavery, not to take immediate action.

‘Of the estimated 40 million slaves globally, the largest proportion, 25 million, are involved in forced labour, with 16 million exploited in the private sector. A lot of these are based in Asia where we are getting many of our global products from.’

Michelia said that legislation would create a level playing field for businesses and consumers and will improve awareness of the issue. 

‘Currently we believe that within domestic and global supply chains there is low awareness in the wider public regarding risks of modern slavery, and a low level of supply chain transparency.

‘The government is putting quite a lot of effort into their own supply chains and that is a good start. But the voluntary system we have now where businesses engage across a wide spectrum, from full transparency through to zero transparency, is not a level playing field. Ethical businesses are being undercut by those seeking to benefit from exploitative supply chain practices.

‘Any consumer trends that you look at from the last five years will state really strongly New Zealand consumers want to support brands that know where their products come from. They don’t want to be involved in exploitative supply chains.’

There is Modern Slavery legislation already in place in other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, said Michelia. This legislation typically requires companies to investigate risks within their supply chains and create an action plan around those risks. These Modern Slavery Statements are signed off at board level and are available to the public.