Last month, we discussed what a Modern Slavery Act will do. You can find this here. Now, we're looking at why New Zealand needs a Modern Slavery Act. 
To answer this, I will briefly address three common myths. We will also hear from Lucy Revill, author, qualified lawyer, policy advisor, and creator of The Residents.

But first, let’s go back in time for a moment.  

It’s 2016. New Zealand resident Faroz Ali was waiting for the verdict of the Auckland High Court. He lured 15 Fijians to New Zealand with the promise of well-paid work, but instead, he forced them to toil long hours for little or no pay and made them sleep on a bare basement floor. Any resistance or requests for payment were met with threats. 

Ali was found guilty. This was the first prosecuted case of forced labour in New Zealand, but it is considered 'the tip of the iceberg'. 

MicrosoftTeams-image-(60).pngModern slavery can take form of forced labour often for extremely long hours for little or no pay. 


Myths surrounding a Modern Slavery Act in NZ 

Myth #1: Modern Slavery happens overseas in poorer countries; it doesn't happen here  

False. Cases of labour exploitation in New Zealand are increasing. This is mostly due to New Zealand's temporary visa schemes, which leave migrant labourers and international students particularly vulnerable to exploitation. The 2020 Trafficking In Persons report calls New Zealand a destination country for forced labour. It says, “Traffickers exploit foreign men and women in New Zealand’s agricultural, dairy, construction, viticulture, food service, technology, hospitality, and domestic service sectors”. The report also notes that Kiwis' “low levels of understanding of the crime across New Zealand," contributes to “a lack of sufficient efforts to increase public awareness of trafficking”.  

A report by New Zealand's Human Trafficking Research Coalition found cases of labour trafficking in our construction sector, particularly since the Christchurch earthquake rebuild began. Fifty per cent of workers brought in to rebuild the city were migrants. It also reported exploitation in the dairy industry, highlighting a case where Fijian workers in the Waikato received no pay and were forced to forage for maize so they wouldn't starve.   Since 2016, there has been a rise in modern slavery prosecutions. Last year, the government prosecuted Joseph Auga Matamata for enslaving 13 Samoan workers in New Zealand’s agricultural sector. He had been exploiting workers for 25 years. Modern Slavery happens right here on New Zealand soil. We simply cannot ignore it. 


Myth #2: Kiwi Businesses are not on board. Legislation is just more red-tape and will be a financial burden  


This open letter signed by more than 100 New Zealand businesses proves this myth false. However, let's dig deeper. Around the world, businesses are backing supply chain legislation and encouraging governments to take action. With consumer demand for ethical and slavery-free products increasing, businesses are realising that tackling modern slavery gives them a competitive advantage, and those who compete on a sub-standard ethical level will be disadvantaged. Companies that comply with a Modern Slavery Act will reap the benefits, such as improved supplier management processes and tools, and better investor and customer relations. They'll also be leaders in an increasingly ethically conscious market. 

Tearfund's research shows that many major New Zealand businesses are already working on supply chain transparency, and some have even published modern slavery statements.  Others want to prioritise ethical sourcing but don't know where to start. Many New Zealand exporters are aware that as more countries enforce supply chain legislation, they'll be required to meet the same ethical standards. 

So, many Kiwi businesses support the legislation because it will level the playing field so that everyone is held to the same standards. It will also provide helpful resources and guidance for businesses to effectively implement changes. In terms of financial impacts, it's important to note that, though many small businesses are pursuing supply chain transparency, Modern Slavery Acts around the world have large revenue thresholds and are aimed at holding big business accountable.  

Globally, consumers are demanding a change in the way businesses and governments act. Australia, Europe and The United Kingdom are drafting or strengthening their Modern Slavery Acts, while the EU is proposing mandatory supply chain investigations. The bar of business ethics is being raised, and we need to get on board before we’re left behind. 

Companies that comply with a Modern Slavery Act will reap the benefits, such as improved supplier management processes and tools, and better investor and customer relations.

Myth #3: Policy and laws don't create change 

When it comes to transparency, Australia's Modern Slavery Act is the reason more than 3,000 companies are required to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, as well as the actions they are taking to address those risks. This information is published on the Australian Government's website, and the government has the power to identify non-compliant companies. Transparency is the first step to accountability. This reporting allows consumers to place public pressure on companies to implement effective change over time. 

In 2020, legislation allowed the US to ban palm oil and latex glove imports after producers were found to have forced labour in their supply chains. The glove supplier, Top Glove, was the top exporter of gloves globally during the Covid-19 pandemic and one of the major suppliers of gloves in New Zealand. Legislation increases transparency and allows governments to take action.  

Sign petition here

Now that these myths have been busted, let's hear from Lucy. 

1.  Why do you support a Modern Slavery Act in New Zealand? 

I support the Act because I believe it is time for us to wake up to the true cost of our economic reality. So often, companies sell us a lie about where our goods really come from. That lie keeps us ignorant when making our purchasing decisions. The reason that we can live our lives of comfort and convenience with ever-cheaper consumer goods, is that in reality, we're standing on the shoulders of less fortunate people who make these products. Often, they are forced to work in inhumane conditions to make our clothes, food, electronics and other consumer goods. This is purely so that these goods can be purchased at lower prices, and the companies can still make a good profit. Over the years, I've started to change my purchasing decisions because I no longer want to be complicit in a world that is crumbling under the ever-increasing pressure to buy more while oppressing people, animals and our environment.  

2.  How can policy be an effective route to change in the NZ fashion industry? 

Policies are essential to regulate the fashion industry. I am a policy adviser and I know how organised corporations are when they submit on public policy, and how rare it is for individuals or non-government organisations to consistently engage with public policy. I know that we cannot trust corporations to regulate themselves. Time and time again, they have shown that they cannot be trusted. They set up consumer interest groups that pretend to be solving the problem, but in reality, they push the issue onto the consumer to solve or hide it. They use clever marketing, undefined, meaningless ethical-sounding jargon that has no regulatory basis or ability to be enforced—their initiatives are superficial. What we really need is the mandatory disclosure of supply chains and a ban on using unverified companies. This problem is hard to solve, and it won't be easy, but we need a Modern Slavery Act to force companies to disclose their decision making. If they haven't got anything to hide, why would they object? 

This problem is hard to solve, and it won't be easy, but we need a Modern Slavery Act to force companies to disclose their decision making.

3. Why should Kiwis care about policy and government action when it comes to clothing imported from international suppliers? 

You can truly have an impact by getting information and lobbying the government to enforce change. Write a letter to your MP! Or Sign the petition online!  Together, we can make a real difference. By asking our government to force businesses to be accountable, we empower our decision-makers to debate these issues and provide a counter-narrative that challenges the overwhelming lobbying power of industry. We need to ask where our clothes come from and to understand that, when we buy a $20 dress, we are perpetuating a cycle of abusive behaviour against men, women and children for profit. 

4. What would you say to people who think a Modern Slavery act is not needed? 

I would tell people to watch documentaries such as The True Cost and think about whether they may be complicit in this economy. The sad truth is, we all are. But we can make a difference if there are standards that we insist companies are held to. There are more people in slavery now than were transported during the transatlantic slave trade. Modern slavery is in the clothes you wear, the coffee you drink and the goods you love. The world is small and interconnected. Every time we purchase a product, there is a chain reaction felt around the world. Clothing, sugar, electronics—no country or industry is unaffected. New Zealand isn't separate from the rest of the world and we need to take a stand. I signed the petition. Will you? 

Though we are a small island in the Pacific, the world is watching what we do. Kiwis already have a reputation for being ethical and sustainable—of being a progressive nation of people that care for each other and our communities. We have the ability to not just reach the standard other countries are setting, but to be a world leader in ethical business.    

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