Modern slavery: Kiwis overwhelmingly support action by Government, new poll reveals

Eight in 10 Kiwis support New Zealand introducing new legislation to require businesses to verify there are no signs of modern slavery in their supply chains, new data shows.

Newshub can reveal the minister in charge of the Government's work on the issue is expecting to make an update "in the coming weeks".

World Vision says it's the "ultimate bread and butter issue' and it would be disappointing if it was shunted to the side as the Government goes through its reprioritisation programme.

Newshub has been provided with a poll commissioned by World Vision and conducted by Talbot Mills Research. It shows New Zealanders of different age groups and across the political spectrum want the Government to address modern slavery.

Modern slavery can include forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery, and human trafficking domestically and internationally. 

Asked, "how strongly would you support or oppose new laws that require New Zealand businesses to verify the absence of modern slavery in their supply chains", 44 percent strongly supported it and 37 supported it. Just 6 percent opposed and 3 percent were strongly opposed. The rest were unsure.

Modern slavery: Kiwis overwhelmingly support action by Government, new poll reveals
Photo credit: Talbot Mills Research.

"We've had strong indications of support through our petition, through the Government consultations, from businesses," said World Vision New Zealand national director Grant Bayldon.

"This has been a chance to get actual poll data behind that and that confirms for us that public support for this, at over 80 percent, is overwhelming."

He said the support across political lines is "encouraging".

"It's a message to Government that they can move on legislation with the support of New Zealanders," Bayldon said.

The Government last year launched public consultation on a proposal to require organisations to take action if they become aware of modern slavery or worker exploitation in their supply chains. Medium and large organisations would also have to disclose the steps they were taking to address it, while large businesses would have to do due diligence. 

Consultation ended last June, with a summary of 5614 submissions showing overall support

However, submitters wanted more clarity on the definition of terms like "modern slavery" and "worker exploitation". They also believed non-compliance should be penalised and due diligence should be required of all organisations, no matter their size.

But since the consultation came back, there's been little news of progress on the proposal from the Government. 

Over that time, the Prime Minister has changed and a number of policies have been purged or delayed due to a focus on "bread and butter issues".

A spokesperson for Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood said the minister "expects to be able to provide an update in the coming weeks". 

"The Government continues to reprioritise our work programme to focus on cost of living and the recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle and Auckland anniversary flood. Alongside this, work continues on progressing policy options for combatting modern slavery."

Workplace Safety and Relations Minister Michael Wood.
Workplace Safety and Relations Minister Michael Wood. Photo credit: Newshub.

Bayldon said World Vision expects legislation to be introduced to the House this year. 

"We're just encouraging them to keep moving and saying that it's really time for action. It's very clear what needs to happen. It's very clear that the country is in support of this, it's clear that our trading partners have also either moved on this or are in the process of doing so. So there's really no reason to delay now."

He said he'd be "disappointed" if the modern slavery work was pushed to the side during the reprioritisation work.

"This is the ultimate bread and butter issue for people both within New Zealand and around the world who are caught up in conditions of modern slavery. 

"Whether the people are in New Zealand or producing goods for us internationally, the issues are the same, that everyone deserves to be treated fairly in the work that they do. 

"I believe this fits squarely with core government bread and butter priorities and with the values of New Zealanders."

Golriz Ghahraman of the Green Party said it's disappointing it's taken so long for the Government to move on the issue.

"Especially because our major trading partners and so-called allies in the global community all seem to have some form of regulation that reflects international standards in terms of modern slavery. So we're behind now."

But it's encouraging that Kiwis appear to back action, she told Newshub. 

"I think we've always known that New Zealanders stand for fairness and for human rights. We've stood against apartheid and nuclear testing. It's a no-brainer that we don't want to be consuming goods that have resulted from slavery."

Ghahraman said experts and advocates have told her that New Zealand should create a regulatory regime that requires multi-national corporations and importers to prove their supply chains are clean. 

"That there is an onus that if you want to import things to New Zealand, that you prove your supply chain, and that is a legislative regulatory regime. "

"On top of that, the standard that we apply should be the international standard in terms of human rights and in terms of the UN bodies, rather than for us to create our own potentially watered-down standards. 

"That enforceability and the onus on the corporates is really key rather than like an aspirational piece of legislation that doesn't then get enforced."

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman. Photo credit: Newshub.

Other countries New Zealand often compares itself to, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, have passed laws requiring businesses to assess and report on their supply chains.

Announcing the consultation last year, Wood said Kiwis expected goods and services they purchase in New Zealand  "are not contributing" to the harm caused by exploitative practicises. 

He hoped the proposed changes would help New Zealand consumers make more informed choices about what they are buying.

"Treating people fairly is the New Zealand way and these proposals highlight how we can develop solutions to slavery and worker exploitation, in our domestic and international supply chains. This will support human rights in a transparent and sustainable way."

A report from World Vision found New Zealand households spent an average of $34 a week on goods linked to such practices in 2019. That year, New Zealand imported more than $3.1 billion in risky products from 44 countries.

The Ministry of  Business, Innovation and Employment has said modern slavery is also happening in New Zealand.

The Talbot Mills Research poll was conducted between January 26 and January 31 this year involving 1071 nationally representative respondents. The maximum sampling error is 3 percent.