MBIE has recently released a consultation paper on Modern Slavery and are seeking feedback on a proposed legislative response to modern slavery and worker exploitation, forced labour, and people trafficking.
Although this legislation has a focus on slavery at an international level within supply chains and organisational practices, New Zealand is recognizing that our business practices are not untouched by these unethical practices.
Studies have found that NZ has around 3,000 people working in modern slavery conditions and, as a nation, we contribute to modern slavery globally by spending an average of $34 a week on products linked to modern slavery.
This article aims to outline the purpose of the proposed legislation, the likely outcome it will have on New Zealand employers and also suggestions for how New Zealand employers should be responding to the consultation paper, whether or not employers believe it will directly apply to their business.
Definition of “Modern Slavery”
The consultation document defines worker exploitation and modern slavery, respectively:
- Worker Exploitation is defined as “non-minor breaches of employment standards in NZ” This definition takes more of a domestic focus, looking at breaches to employment standards in New Zealand, including breaches of the Employment Relations Act.
- Modern Slavery is defined as “severe exploitation that a person cannot leave due to threats, violence or deception.” It includes forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery, and human trafficking.
The aim of the legislation is “to achieve freedom, fairness and dignity… and to address modern slavery and worker exploitation, both in New Zealand and internationally.”
The primary objective is to reduce modern slavery and worker exploitation, helping to build practices based on fairness and respect. It also aims to enhance NZ’s reputation as a country that supports human rights and transparency in operations and supply chains.
In practice, the legislation would create responsibilities across operations and supply chains for all types of organisations, with more responsibilities for larger organisations. All organisations would be required to take reasonable action if they become aware of modern slavery/worker exploitation and required to disclose the steps they are taking. Large organisations would be required to undertake due diligence to prevent and mitigate it.
What does this mean for New Zealand employers and businesses?
The obligations outlined in the proposed legislation are tougher than the rules other countries have introduced in respect of this topic. While this has a positive note, it could mean that in practice there would be a lot of paperwork and costs to businesses, for example the cost of changing an entire supply chain, investigating whether modern slavery is happening, peanlties if it is found that a business is in breach of the legislation, reputational impact if it is found a business is in breach and more.
As the proposal has an international lens, it is less likely that New Zealand based supply chain businesses will be impacted, such as fruit picking, dairy, hospitality, small boutique stores and more. While this may be considered appropriate for these businesses, as they will be naturally smaller in size and have less resources to fulfil the legislative obligations, there are concerns that the legislation may not reflect the full spectrum of people subject to modern slavery in NZ.
By nature, these types of crimes are hidden, and vulnerable people are less likely to seek help or report incidents, which means that there is less visibility of these crimes occurring in New Zealand. However these crimes are happening, for example in 2020 a man was convicted on slavery charges (https://tinyurl.com/52742epx) for bringing Samoan citizens to New Zealand to work on orchards and other work sites and withholding payment for the time worked. So while this proposed legislation may be seen as making a difference for the big players, there is a question if it will really deter employers who are actually practising these unethical practices.
For those employers impacted, it will be important to start thinking about the potential obligations and/or reporting, especially for multinational organisations. For those employers who are not necessarily impacted, the consultation paper should be taken as an opportunity to see if modern slavery needs to be addressed in their industry and turn their mind to their own workplace practices and managing the risks of potential modern slavery in their organisations and/or making changes to improve employee conditions to advocate for good working conditions.
At Three60 we can assist organisations with reviewing their working environment, whether that is a culture review and/or reviewing whether employees are being afforded their minimum entitlements to ensure that they are being treated fairly.
Whether or not this legislation will impact employers directly, in general the legislation could be a good step to promoting decent work, human rights, and transparency in business activities. This is
It also allows New Zealand to catch up with the rest of the world in this area, enabling New Zealand to play our part in creating fair employment practices and promoting human rights.
Submissions for consultation are open until 07 June 2022. Make sure you have your say.