Rebekah Armstrong: What the Australian Modern Slavery Act will mean for big Kiwi businesses

Rebekah Armstrong: What the Australian Modern Slavery Act will mean for big Kiwi businesses

December 13, 2018

Australia has a Modern Slavery Act. It comes into effect 1 January 2019 and places legal requirements on companies earning more than A$100 million ($104.7m) per annum to publicly report on modern slavery risks in their supply chains.

The new Act is part of the global response to address the human rights issue of modern slavery. It will affect approximately 3000 Australian Businesses and 500+ New Zealand businesses carrying on business in Australia.

It is an example of how businesses can contribute to the advancement of human rights for people that come into contact with their company. It puts an onus on companies to care about people as well as profit.

In 2018, there are an estimated 45 million victims of slavery worldwide and 25 million workers exploited in supply chains with two thirds of these in the Asia-Pacific region.

While easy to think modern slavery only affects New Zealand companies that have supply chains overseas, the fact is that, modern slavery is likely happening in New Zealand based supply chains.

We have had two human trafficking convictions in the last two years. The Worker Exploitation Report 2016 showed that worker exploitation with aspects of slavery related practice were taking place in our primary industries including construction, dairy, fishing, international education, horticulture and viticulture and retail.

Modern slavery according to the Act includes slavery, human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, deceptive recruiting and the worst forms of child labour and abuse.

The Act places a requirement on companies to produce a Modern Slavery Statement that is signed off at board level and published in a public register. It covers mandatory disclosure requirements including:

  • The risks of modern day slavery in the organisation's supply chain;
  • Actions taken to address that risk;
  • Assessment of the effectiveness of the actions taken to address the risks; and
  • The consultation process that has taken place to form the Modern Slavery statement.

The Act will have a significant impact on some of New Zealand's big businesses, requiring them to understand their supply chain in a way they have not before. Human rights lie at the heart of the Act and it puts an onus on businesses to uphold these.

On the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is significant that companies are agreeing to uphold the rights and dignity of all people that come into contact with their business operation.

Guidance on forming a modern day slavery statement will be issued by the Australian Department of Home Affairs, but New Zealand companies wanting to front foot this issue should start by mapping out their supply chain and identifying human rights issues that may currently exist.

For more information on business and human rights, click here.

Rebekah Armstrong is the Advisory and Research Manager at the NZ Human Rights Commission and Chair of the Human Trafficking Research Coalition. This was first published in the NZ Herald.