Businesses urged to give feedback on modern slavery
A proposed new law to address modern slavery will have an impact on New Zealand’s SMEs and the sector is being urged to provide views on the planned legislation. The government has released a consultation document on laws to address modern slavery and worker exploitation which will create new responsibilities for all businesses, regardless of […]
A proposed new law to address modern slavery will have an impact on New Zealand’s SMEs and the sector is being urged to provide views on the planned legislation.
The government has released a consultation document on laws to address modern slavery and worker exploitation which will create new responsibilities for all businesses, regardless of size.
The proposal is unique to New Zealand’s business community – 98 percent of which comprises small to medium enterprises. The proposed legislation outlines obligations for businesses to address worker exploitation in domestic supply chains – a growing problem for many New Zealand companies.
The Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, Michael Wood, says the aim of the proposed legislation is to protect vulnerable workers, strengthen trade, and champion human rights.
“New Zealanders have a growing awareness around the issue of worker exploitation and modern slavery in supply chains, and they expect that the goods and services they purchase in New Zealand are not contributing to this harm. That’s why we are publishing proposed legislative options to help prevent modern slavery and worker exploitation,” he says.
The consultation document details the responsibilities for businesses of all sizes, with greater responsibilities required of larger enterprises. Proposed responsibilities include:
- All organisations would need to take action if they become aware of modern slavery or worker exploitation in their supply chains.
- Medium and large organisations would be required to disclose the steps they are taking to address modern slavery.
- Large organisations and those with control over New Zealand employers would be required to undertake due diligence.
Aid agency World Vision New Zealand says more than 40 million people worldwide are currently trapped in modern slavery, which includes forced labour, child labour, and debt bondage.
World Vision’s national director, Grant Bayldon (pictured below), says there’s a groundswell of support from the general public and the business community to address modern slavery.
He says more than 100 New Zealand companies signed an open letter last year in support of laws to address modern slavery. A further 37,000 people signed a public petition to this effect.
“We know that most Kiwi businesses value the wellbeing of the people involved in making the products and services they sell. And we know that the business community has the ability to make decisions that will help stop child labour and slavery in other countries and in New Zealand.
“Given that, we’d urge businesses of all sizes to submit to support this proposed legislation and provide feedback to the Government so that this law works for everyone in business,” he says.
New Zealand clothing retailer, Kathmandu, is supportive of the proposed legislation and has already taken steps to address modern slavery in its supply chains. It’s social impact manager, Gary Shaw, says Kathmandu knew there were issues with its supply chain, but it was compelled to make changes to ensure the business’s operations reflected its brand values.
“We know we have had a very imperfect international supply chain, sourcing products and materials from countries with very different understandings of human rights, gender equality and human dignity.
“It is therefore imperative that we are proactive in taking steps to ensure that we have transparency in our supply chain and that we work collaboratively to address those imperfections. It’s meant we’ve been willing to change our mindset and make business decisions that consider profit, people and planet equally,” he says.
Shaw encourages businesses to see the proposed legislation as an opportunity rather than red tape.
“The evidence is clear that those businesses who embrace rather than avoid this journey enjoy higher levels of employee engagement and are more profitable in the long term,” he says.
The chair of the Modern Slavery Leadership Advisory Group, businessman Rob Fyfe, says it’s time for the business community to lead from the front.
“I believe as business leaders, consumers, and New Zealanders, it’s long overdue that we step up and take greater responsibility for protecting the fundamental human freedoms of all those involved in the production of the goods and services we consume,” he says.
“I find it unimaginable that in 2022 there are over 25 million people around the world who are being forced to work in slave-like conditions. Usually, these practices are not in plain sight, so if we choose not to look, not to do appropriate due diligence and audits, not to follow up on whistle-blower complaints, and to adopt an attitude of “out of sight, out of mind” – then we implicitly become a party to this evil.”
Small to medium-sized companies are encouraged to respond to the 28 questions in the consultation document or make a submission using World Vision’s easy-to-use submission template.
Businesses can have their say on the proposed legislation to address modern slavery at https://www.mbie.govt.nz/have-your-say/modern-slavery or https://wvnz.org.nz/submit-to-support