Why supporting the Government to bring in modern slavery legislation is the best thing New Zealanders can do right now to combat modern slavery.

02 Jun 2022 by Becky Kingi
Why supporting the Government to bring in modern slavery legislation is the best thing New Zealanders can do right now to combat modern slavery.

I’ve been working in the anti-modern slavery sector for a while. Along the way I’ve met people from many different backgrounds and in very different roles. Be it business leaders, politicians, police officers, social workers, modern slavery survivors or members of the public; nobody I’ve met thinks modern slavery is a good thing. And this is hardly surprising. We all benefit when everyone can work with safety and dignity. We all benefit when parents are in secure and paid work meaning children can stay in education and not be subject to forced labour. We all benefit when our society and markets are operating on a fair playing field and doing right by people and the planet.

Yet, unfortunately, when it comes to combating modern slavery, we’ve got some serious work to do. In 2022 people are being exploited for the gain of another. Sometimes in our corner of the globe it feels like we can turn the other way from such troubling concepts, but this is not an issue that we can detach from. New Zealanders are connected to modern slavery through our everyday purchases – we buy things all the time that could have been made by people subjected to modern slavery. And in our own country, there are cases of individuals who have been exploited and found to be survivors of human trafficking and slavery, according to New Zealand’s criminal definition.

I take pride in being a New Zealander. I don’t take pride in the fact that modern slavery can happen in our backyard, or that its shadow is on our shelves. New Zealand’s Government, businesses and citizens have a vital role to play in ending modern slavery. We have a responsibility too, and with that responsibly comes a more comforting thought; we have immense potential and an exciting opportunity to be a part of upcoming positive change.

This is the section where you may expect me to rattle off all the ethical purchases you can make to ‘do your bit’. Of course, conscious consumerism is important and a positive stance to take. But I’m not going to do that today, because the most important action we can take right now is show support for structural change. You can make a submission right now in support of modern slavery law here.

What does this mean? Well, it helps to take a step back and consider that modern slavery doesn’t just happen, there are push factors that create an environment where people can get away with using someone else for their profit and gain. A big push factor is that there is a gap in our laws and systems, which means that there is no accountability in place to ensure modern slavery in New Zealand’s supply chains and operations isn’t happening, allowing space for it to happen. Specifically, there is no requirement for entities to look into modern slavery risk (or address any risk), and no requirement to be transparent about what steps are being taken. At the moment, businesses who are doing the right thing are on the back foot as there is nothing holding those who are cutting corners to account. This isn’t fair, it isn’t justice, and it doesn’t align with the values of New Zealanders.

The introduction of legislation in New Zealand is a structural change that is a strong step forward, creating a positive foundation to help sever our own contribution to modern slavery, and a mechanism that can help stop child labour and modern slavery in other countries. Specifically, the kind of legislation that will work is ‘due diligence’ legislation, which requires taking action to remedy problems. The good news is the Government agrees with us. They have acknowledged there is a gap in New Zealand’s framework, and they have put forward a proposal for modern slavery law.

This is where we can take important action. Right now, you can make a submission in support of modern slavery law. This is where you get to tell the government that you believe legislation really matters – because it truly does.