Exploitative bosses putting NZ's anti-slavery reputation 'at stake' - business leaders

Business leaders say New Zealand's reputation is at risk if employers don't do more to combat modern day slavery.

The Immigration Minister says one possible option is to legislate and force companies to ensure their product supply chains are legitimate.

Feroz Ali was the first person to be found guilty of human trafficking in New Zealand. Masala bosses also ended up in the dock, charged with exploiting workers.

Then, there were the owners of a Japanese chain in Auckland who took passports off their workers while paying them a pittance.

They're all cases that have business leaders worried and trying to come up with rules to stop worker exploitation.

"New Zealand's reputation is ultimately at stake and it's important we get things right," Ice Beaker chairman Rob Fyfe said.

In the UK, an anti-slavery act was introduced making business accountable if it's shown they've used exploitative practices like child labour in their supply chain.

"Legislation is one possible outcome, but there are a number of options that we could consider," said Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.

"There might be, for example, an accord that we people could sign up to."

In the 2016 financial year, Immigration New Zealand received 2617 complaints relating to either employment issues, fraud by agents, exploitation or trafficking.

Of those, 22 cases resulted in prosecution. A further 188 cases are still being investigated.

Those who work to support migrants say while its important employers have strict rules, workers currently don't feel protected if they choose to blow the whistle on exploitative behaviour.

"The Government itself hasn't really put in place many measures to empower workers or make them confident that they should step forward, step up and speak out," said  Anu Kaloti from the Migrant Workers Association.

The Government says it will address that and plans to double labour inspectorate numbers - but that won't happen for another two years.