Combatting modern slavery

Modern slavery including forced labour is a major issue globally. The New Zealand Government takes this issue seriously and is committed to eradicating all forms of modern slavery.

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The problem

Modern slavery is a serious global issue and a breach of fundamental human and labour rights, as well as having a corrosive effect on trade.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) an estimated 40.3 million people worldwide are subject to modern slavery including 25 million people in forced labour. Of the people trapped in forced labour, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as in domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million are in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million are in forced labour imposed by state authorities. Forced labour generates approximately US$150 billion in illegal profits yearly.

Some consumers and businesses are unknowingly supporting modern slavery through the purchase of goods and services here in New Zealand and overseas – including purchases of clothing, food, electronics, accommodation and a range of other goods and services.

New Zealand’s position

New Zealand is committed to actively contributing to international efforts towards the elimination of modern slavery, including forced labour, child labour, people smuggling and trafficking. New Zealand’s trade policy also recognises the need to respect and incorporate the observance of fundamental labour rights in our trade agreements.  

New Zealand has enacted laws prohibiting slavery, trafficking in persons and forced labour in New Zealand and is a party to a number of international treaties dealing with the topic including:

What is the New Zealand Government doing in relation to modern slavery in international supply chains?

While slavery, trafficking in persons and forced labour are unlawful in New Zealand, the Government recognises the need to do more to eliminate modern slavery in international supply chains.

In April 2021, New Zealand joined the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada to express concern about forced and compulsory labour and call on the ILO to identify ways to bring attention to, and address, serious and persistent labour rights deficits around the world.

Statement to Accompany Vote by Correspondence on Behalf of Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States(external link)

On 13 December 2019, New Zealand ratified the 2014 ILO Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention (Forced Labour Protocol). The Forced Labour Protocol is a legally-binding document that provides guidance on how to eliminate all forms of modern slavery including forced labour, and requires each state that has ratified it to develop a national ‘Plan of Action’ for the effective and sustained suppression of forced labour.

New Zealand’s Plan of Action against Forced Labour, People Trafficking and Slavery(external link) (Plan of Action) was launched on 16 March 2021 by the Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety, Hon Michael Wood.

The Plan of Action reaffirms New Zealand’s commitment to prevent and eliminate all forms of modern slavery and outlines 28 actions Government agencies are taking through to 2025. Under the Plan of Action, policy work is currently underway to explore legislative and other options to address modern slavery including forced labour in international supply chains.

This work includes considering other international responses (such as the modern slavery legislation enacted in Australia and the United Kingdom) and whether these approaches would be effective in the New Zealand context. These options are expected to be released for public consultation by early 2022.

New Zealand will also be undertaking work to develop and adopt a National Action Plan to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights(external link), which provide a global standard for preventing and addressing the adverse human rights impacts linked to business activities.

You can find the Plan of Action(external link) on the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment website.

More information on the Forced Labour Protocol (external link)and a copy of the full text is available on the International Labour Organization (ILO) website.

What does this mean for New Zealand businesses?

Modern slavery should not form part of business operations or supply chains

Businesses as well as governments have a responsibility to recognise and respect human rights in their operations and to seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships.

Many businesses internationally are working with their suppliers and consumers to ensure modern slavery including forced labour are not part of their supply chains. As well as helping eradicate these practices, this can help build consumer confidence and trust in the businesses concerned and positively differentiate them from their competitors.

The New Zealand Government encourages businesses to work with relevant industry groups and non-governmental organizations and seek independent advice to ensure human rights are upheld in their supply chains. Businesses with international supply chains are encouraged to assess the risk of modern slavery including forced labour in their supply chains and implement human rights due diligence as applicable.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights(external link), and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises(external link)provide guidance on best practices for this type of due diligence.

Businesses may find the following resources helpful in obtaining information on combatting modern slavery including forced labour in supply chains:

Further resources

The below New Zealand-specific resources provide guidance to businesses on how to ensure human rights are respected in business operations:


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