Slavery in our supply chains – New Zealand lagging behind the rest of the world

by | Apr 11, 2022 | News

The Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, Hon. Michael Wood has opened a public consultation process on modern slavery, asking for feedback on what legislation to address modern slavery should include. The consultation process is the next step in a year-long campaign by New Zealand NGO’s World Vision and TradeAid to bring New Zealand legislation in line with comparable countries such as Australia and the UK.

Modern slavery includes practices such as forced labour, child labour, debt bondage, and human trafficking. Globally, around 40 million people are victims of modern slavery – that’s one in every 200 people. A quarter of those in modern slavery are children.

The Government’s proposed legislative options, which are now out for public consultation until June 7, would require all organisations to take action if they became aware of modern slavery or worker exploitation. Described by Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood as “transformative work”, the proposals come after years of advocacy by human rights groups who say New Zealand has been “lagging behind the rest of the world” in combating exploitative practices.

“Currently, many New Zealand companies have no visibility of the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains and could unwittingly be helping to facilitate modern slavery through their purchasing or business relationships,” says Rebekah Armstrong, Head of Advocacy with NGO World Vision.

World Vision would like to see modern slavery legislation that requires all businesses to not only identify modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, but to also take action to prevent or mitigate it. The NGO is confident that change in this area would be good for workers, businesses, and all New Zealanders. “Legislation to address modern slavery would make doing the right thing the norm. Most New Zealand companies want to do the right thing and ensure that the people involved in making the products and services they sell are safe and working in good conditions,” says Armstrong.

Other countries New Zealand normally compares itself to, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, have also recently passed laws requiring their businesses to assess and report on their supply chains. Wood has said that New Zealand needs to join others 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.”

The coffee trap

On average, in 2019, every adult in New Zealand drank three cups of coffee a week associated with child and forced labour.

No child should have to work instead of going to school. Elijah, 13, has been forced to cut coffee plants since he was just 7-years old. For kids like Elijah, the hours are long and the work is dangerous. Elijah dreams of a brighter future, he hopes to become a teacher one day.

In 2019, New Zealand imported more than $45.5 million, or 700 million cups of coffee that was risky. The top four sources of risky coffee were Brazil (27.9%), Colombia (22.1%), Vietnam (20.9%) and Guatemala (9.9%).

Bananas too are an industry rife with problems. The sector is notorious for its use of fungicides and child exploitation with children as young as eight found to be working in plantations.

The good news, if you can say that being less bad is good, is that food is not the worst offender. Just two categories of food are in the top 10 list, with fashion the worst offender by far. Think sweatshops and you’ll not be far from the truth.

Count Countdown in

Countdown has been part of the Modern Slavery Leadership Advisory Group which helped develop the proposals. Countdown’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Safety and Sustainability Kiri Hannifin says the proposals are an important step towards delivering better outcomes for workers as well as helping businesses understand and address their own supply chain human rights risks.

National Director for World Vision New Zealand, Grant Bayldon agrees there’s a groundswell of support for such legislation in New Zealand. More than 100 New Zealand companies signed World Vision’s open letter in March 2021 in support of legislation to address modern slavery and more than 37,000 New Zealanders signed a petition in support of legislation.

Bayldon says all New Zealanders can play a role in helping to protect the livelihoods of children around the world and to set standards for the production and supply of goods and services for New Zealand businesses.

For more information on the modern slavery act go here.

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