Forced labour and Human Trafficking

Forced labour and human trafficking are often grouped together today under the heading of “Modern Slavery”, a condition estimated to affect some 28 million people globally according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

As you can see the term “modern slavery” encompasses a range of human rights abuse up to and including the buying and selling of people. In New Zealand, this range of behavior is illegal and recent cases, such as that against Matamata,[1]show that Immigration NZ and the Police will prosecute such behavior when it is uncovered. NZ is itself looking into modern slavery legislation as similar legislation exists in Australia, UK, Germany, USA amongst others. Increasingly such legislation prohibits the importation of any product if forced labour is identified at any point in the production of a product. This means forced labour anywhere in the supply chain can taint the final product.

Given the export reliance of New Zealand production, allegations of forced labour can have an immediate and negative impact on your business and wider market access.

 Forced labour, which is labour extracted using force, threats, or other coercion, does exist even in NZ. As the NZEE Human Rights Policy states, members will not tolerate it in their own business or indeed in their supplier businesses.

So how can you spot if forced labour is present? The ILO has a list of indicators which, if any one of them is identified, should cause you to investigate further.

They are.

  • Abuse of vulnerability e.g., use of undocumented labour
  • Deception e.g., false, or misleading employment or job ads
  • Isolation e.g., placing a person in a location they cannot easily leave or are cut off from others
  • Physical and/or sexual violence
  • Intimidation or threats e.g., threatening with immigration officials
  • Retention of identity documents e.g., retaining passports that prevent a person from freely leaving
  • Withholding wages
  • Debt bondage e.g., recruitment fees charged to get a job, creation of debt with the employer
  • Abusive working or living conditions.
  • Excessive overtime

 The key questions you need to ask yourself are, has the employee entered voluntarily into employment and are they free to leave if they want to?  Are penalties or threats used to keep employees from leaving their employment?

Recruitment is the time to ask these questions. Make sure your employees are aware of your no-tolerance rule and ask them at interview simple questions around any fees they may have incurred (outside those permitted under the RSE scheme) to get to the interview.

Provide a secure place that the employee can keep passports and other personal items which they can access freely at any time. Train your team leaders, managers etc. as to what your expectations are and encourage employees to raise concerns at any time.

As well as being clear yourself about the prohibition of forced labour in your business you also need to make your position clear to your suppliers and ask them what steps they are taking to prevent it in their own business and are you satisfied with those actions.

 As stated earlier, forced labour anywhere in the system can prejudice the final product.




 Tūhana Business and Human Rights is NZEE’s Human Rights Foundation Partner, to help members implement the UNGP framework in their operations and help identify and prioritize the risks they pose to people through their own business operations and supply chain and develop responses that look to prevent, mitigate, or remedy human rights issues.