Legislation aims to end slavery and worker exploitation

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Public consultation ends on June 7, 2022

Michelia Miles from Trade Aid handed over more than 37,000 petitions to Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood on June 29, 2021 (World Vision Photo)

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Wellington, May 4, 2022

Businesses, Government and NGOs join to end Modern Slavery and Worker Exploitation

The government is taking steps to protect vulnerable workers, strengthen trade and champion human rights through new proposals released on April 8, 2022.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood said that New Zealanders are increasingly becoming aware of worker exploitation and modern slavery in supply chains.

“They expect that the goods and services that they purchase in New Zealand are not contributing to this harm. That is why we are publishing proposed legislative options to help prevent modern slavery and worker exploitation,” he said.

Developing solutions

Mr Wood said that treating people fairly is the New Zealand way and that the proposals highlight how solutions can be developed to end slavery and worker exploitation in the domestic and international supply chains.

This will support human rights transparently and sustainably, he said.

“These proposals also deliver on a 2020 Election Manifesto to exploring the implementation of modern slavery legislation in New Zealand to eliminate exploitation in supply chains. Included in the proposals is a requirement for organisations to take action if they become aware of modern slavery or worker exploitation. In addition, large organisations will be required to undertake due diligence to prevent, mitigate and remedy modern slavery and worker exploitation,” Mr Wood said.

He said that the government has worked closely with businesses, non-governmental organisations, unions and academics through its Advisory Group chaired by Rob Fyfe.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood (INL File Photo)

“These proposals will drive meaningful change. Many of our international trading partners already have modern slavery legislation, and New Zealand now needs to join others in showing global leadership on these important issues. Increasingly, international partners expect New Zealand to be taking action on these issues. It is the right thing to do, it is consistent with Kiwi values, and it will benefit our trade and international relationships,” Mr Wood said.

According to him, while modern slavery and worker exploitation may appear limited in New Zealand, it is generally acknowledged that the hidden nature of these crimes means vulnerable people are less likely or able to seek help or report their experiences.

“That is why we need to ensure we have adequate protections in place. This transformative work has been a high priority for the Government and has wide-reaching impact. I feel confident that New Zealand will join our partners in the global solution to this serious issue,” Mr Wood said.

Background to the Proposal

On 16 March 2021, the Government released New Zealand’s all-of-government Plan of Action against Forced Labour, People Trafficking and Slavery. As part of the Plan of Action, the Government committed to considering legislation to address modern slavery in supply chains.

The package of proposals released on April 8, 2022, aims to (a) Reduce modern slavery and prevent worker exploitation in New Zealand (b), Support consumers, to make more informed choices (c) Drive culture and behaviour changes leading to more responsible and sustainable practices and (d) Boost New Zealand’s international reputation as a country that supports human rights and transparency

Modern slavery and worker exploitation practices take many forms including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and human trafficking.

The proposals would require (1) All organisations to take action if they become aware of modern slavery or worker exploitation (2) Medium and large organisations to disclose the steps they are taking to address modern slavery and worker exploitation (3) Large organisations and those with significant control over New Zealand employers to undertake due diligence to prevent, mitigate and remedy modern slavery and worker exploitation.

The Modern Slavery Leadership Advisory Group is chaired by Rob Fyfe and includes representatives from Kathmandu, Countdown, OCS, World Vision, Trade Aid, AUT, Human Rights Commission, BusinessNZ, CTU, Auckland University, Walk Free and NZ Superfund.

The group brings together a wide range of perspectives, including business, academia, unions and NGOs.

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