Is New Zealand finally ready to address modern slavery in its supply chains?

World Vision and Tearfund New Zealand call for new legislation to better protect the people behind our products.

Yesterday (24 April) marks the day the Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh nine years ago, tragically killing 1,132 garment workers and injuring more than 2,500.

The catastrophic event highlighted the exploitative and unsafe working conditions that were a daily reality for millions of garment workers worldwide.

Today’s anniversary comes as the New Zealand government is seeking feedback on legislation to address modern slavery in New Zealand supply chains.

“It is sobering that nine years on from this tragedy we are still importing goods made by slaves,” says Tearfund New Zealand CEO, Ian McInnes. “That’s why we applaud this move toward legislation which will keep big business accountable for exploitation in their supply chains and help level the playing field for businesses that are making an effort to ensure their goods are not tainted by slavery.”

Research from World Vision New Zealand reveals that in 2019, New Zealand imported approximately $3.1 billion worth of products that were potentially implicated with modern slavery. Nearly 40 per cent of this was clothing.

Meanwhile, Tearfund’s 2021 Ethical Fashion Report found that roughly one-third of companies hadn’t traced all of their direct suppliers and fewer than half of companies had any type of process to address child labour and forced labour in their supply chains.

World Vision New Zealand National Director, Grant Bayldon, says legal change is needed urgently to improve the lives of millions living in modern slavery.

“For too long we have turned a blind eye to the forced labour that is used to make so many of the products we buy. The laws we make here in New Zealand are part of a system that has the power to protect people in other countries from child labour and slavery. It’s imperative that we take steps to enshrine this protection in law now,” he says.

Mr Bayldon is urging New Zealanders to submit to support legislation to address modern slavery here.

Last year, more than 37,000 Kiwis signed a petition calling for an end to modern slavery.

They were supported by the business community when more than 100 businesses signed an open letter calling for legislation to address modern slavery. In February, the petitions committee recommended that the government should introduce legislation addressing modern slavery before the house as soon as possible.

Kathmandu is one of the businesses in support of the petition. Its social impact manager, Gary Shaw, says New Zealanders need to start asking themselves hard questions about modern slavery. 

“If my business is more profitable or my lifestyle is better because of the slavery of other people, am I okay with that? It is a good question to sit with because that question is at the heart of this proposed legislation.”

Mr McInnes says New Zealand is taking small steps to address modern slavery legislation, but there is still a long way to go to ensure everybody—the government, not-for-profits and Kiwi businesses—understands the part they play in stamping out modern slavery in supply chains for good.

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