Businesses need New Zealand’s modern slavery legislation

By Gemma Livingston
Gemma Livingston - KPMG New Zealand

Modern slavery legislation is coming to New Zealand. This will be another regulation and reporting framework that businesses will need to comply with. Is the cost to business worth it and does New Zealand actually need this legislation?

Modern slavery is far reaching

The latest global modern slavery estimates show that there are nearly 50 million people living in situations of modern slavery.  Walk Free Foundation’s most recent country specific data estimates there are 8,000 people living in modern slavery conditions in New Zealand,  a rise from 3,000 people five years ago. 

The sad fact is that modern slavery and worker exploitation is profitable.  Vulnerable populations, including displaced people and migrant workers, are a commodity and targeted by individuals and organised crime groups looking to make money.   

You don’t have to delve far into New Zealand’s media to see news of migrant workers being taken advantage of here.  Media in the past year has highlighted exploitation of migrant workers on Recognised Seasonal Employer, Entertainers and Accredited Employer Work visas, as well as people exploiting workers in New Zealand without an eligible visa.

The same vulnerabilities can be exacerbated in countries where there is not comparable labour, immigration, human rights and criminal legislation that address worker exploitation, or that have State-imposed forced labour.

Without transparency in supply chains, businesses and consumers in New Zealand cannot ascertain which goods may have been produced or distributed with the use of forced labour. 

The need for modern slavery legislation

Proposed modern slavery legislation for New Zealand will require certain entities to report publicly on the entities’ efforts to address modern slavery and worker exploitation in their business operations and supply chains.  

Pressures beyond New Zealand legislation

But increased pressure for businesses to take responsibility for their human impact isn’t coming from New Zealand legislation alone. 

Businesses face increasing scrutiny from consumers, employees, investors and lenders on social impact credentials.  Increased advocacy and human rights investigations create risk exposure and erode public trust if unaddressed modern slavery risk is called out or when rights related incidents are uncovered.  

A growing number of jurisdictions are adopting or considering legislative requirements for companies to undertake human rights due diligence, putting greater onus on businesses than New Zealand’s proposed modern slavery legislation.  New Zealand suppliers into these jurisdictions will need to provide greater transparency about their business operations and their supply chains in order to continue operating in a global market.   

Human rights are becoming mainstreamed on the corporate agenda and addressing risks is a cost businesses cannot, and should not avoid. 

Gemmal LIvingston

New Zealand needs this legislation

Enforcing modern slavery legislation in New Zealand is a step forward to our alignment with international best practice and ensuring New Zealand complies with relevant international conventions and trade agreements. The legislation will provide New Zealand businesses with a framework to ensure they can meet reporting requirements internationally. Legislation and associated guidance material will create a level playing field for businesses within New Zealand and help prevent exploitation through transparency and accountability.  

New Zealand needs this legislation, and we need it enacted at pace.

About Gemma Livingston

Gemma Livingston leads KPMG’s human rights and social impact offerings in New Zealand. Gemma works with KPMG clients across the ‘S’ and ‘G’ of ESG to identify and address human rights risks and opportunities in business operations and supply chains.  Specialising in modern slavery, Gemma provides advice relating to the proposed New Zealand modern slavery legislation and compliance with global legislation. 

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