Slavery has once again become front-and-centre of issues for many companies, but it has not been something that until now has resonated with New Zealand businesses.
However, new Australian legislation will ensure that companies need to carefully examine their operations and supply chain to look at working conditions that may be linked to modern slavery.
Chapman Tripp lawyer Nicola Swan says that the Australian Modern Slavery Act requires companies with more than AUD$100 million (NZD$107 million) turnover to report any evidence of worker exploitation to either their own organisation or the government in a move that could force around 500 New Zealand businesses to publicly disclose their risk to modern slavery practices within their organisation.
This includes companies that are registered in Australia with revenues that exceed A$100m or businesses that are part of a major Australian company’s supply chain.
The so-called ‘slavery statements’ require businesses to explain the entity’s structure, operation and entire supply chain, and acknowledge working conditions that may contribute or are linked to modern slavery, which includes forced or bonded labour.
For example, if a business based in Australia sold products manufactured in a factory in Thailand, the business would have to review the working conditions of the factory and publicly disclose them.
The first set of statements are due in late December.
Swan said when they become public they could shine a light on working conditions within New Zealand businesses.
“There’s going to be increasing pressure coming down the supply chain and questions are going to be asked to make sure that none of the businesses feeding into them have got modern slavery in their own business.
“That’s where I think we’re going to see a lot more New Zealand companies being caught by having to answer these sorts of questions in a much more specific way then they might have.”
Swan said New Zealand was not immune to cases of modern slavery.
In March, for instance, a Hastings-based Samoan chief was found guilty of 10 charges in human trafficking and 13 charges in dealing in slaves.
Swan said there were powers in the act which were designed to incentivise businesses to publish slavery statements.
“There are some very clever powers in the act whereby the minister can request information about why you haven’t published a statement, and the minister then has the power to publish the name of the entity which hasn’t complied with the legislation.”
Swan expected the New Zealand government to follow the example set by Australia and institute its own modern slavery statement policy in the next few years.
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