Anti-modern slavery legislation: a reality for New Zealand

When individuals consider the term ‘slavery’, its often associated with historic events that have for a long time been totally unacceptable in modern day society. However, modern slavery is prevalent in our country and around the world, and this practice has become more sophisticated as time passes.

For example, an employer may support an individual to get a work visa that is conditional on them performing work solely for the employer’s company. The employer may then agree (on paper) to pay the employee the minimum pay rate that is required pursuant to their visa, pay the employee through the payroll system for their contracted hours at the agreed hourly rate, and then on pay day ask that employee to go down to the local ATM and withdraw half of their week’s wages to ‘compensate’ the employer for securing the employee a visa in New Zealand. This is an example of modern slavery that occurs frequently in our country.

MBIE has recently sought feedback on proposed new legislation that aims to reduce modern slavery practices in New Zealand.

Should the legislation proceed as proposed, it would create new obligations across organisations and through supply chains within New Zealand, such as:

  • A positive obligation to take action if an organisation becomes aware of modern slavery or worker exploitation.
  • Medium to larger organisations would be required to formally disclose the steps they are taking to prevent modern slavery, particularly through their supply chains.
  • Large organisations and those with “control over New Zealand employers” would be obligated to undertake active due diligence of their supply chains to ensure they are not working with another entity where modern slavery is occurring.

Whilst this concept is new to New Zealand, there are already established laws to this effect in Australia through the Modern Slavery Act 2018. The Australian legislation created a national Modern Slavery Reporting Requirement applicable to large Australian businesses that earn more than AUD$100 million pa.

It is likely that should legislation proceed in this space, we will look to our Australian neighbours for guidance.

We will keep you updated as this legislation proceeds.

If you or your organisation are concerned about modern slavery practices in your organisation or through your supply chain, please don’t hesitate to contact a member of our Employment Law team.

Click here for more Employment law articles.

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