Modern Slavery

Good Morning members of the business community and the Mekong Club.

First, thanks to the Mekong Club for the invitation to give this opening address.

he Mekong Club has called Modern Slavery the issue of our time. With 45.8 million people trapped in 167 countries from around the world, there are more slaves today than in any other time in history.

Most of the victims of modern slavery are found in global supply chains – with over 65% of all victims found in the Asia-Pacific region.

Total global illegal profits obtained from human trafficking, slavery and forced labour amount to over US$150 billion.

Although it might not be easy for many New Zealanders to associate modern slavery and human trafficking with our country, they are in fact a reality in New Zealand.

The Government has prosecuted two cases of human trafficking since 2015 and has one more currently before the Courts. We also believe that many cases go undetected and that some of the products we import do not come from clean supply chains. 

The Government is committed to eradicating modern slavery and human trafficking.

On the 19th of September, New Zealand along with the governments of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States endorsed a set of four Principles to Combat Human Trafficking in Global Supply Chains.  This includes a commitment for governments to take steps to prevent and address human trafficking in government procurement practices.

New Zealand is dedicated to taking firm action in line with these principles and will be doing so in conjunction with our refreshed national Plan of Action to Prevent People Trafficking, Forced Labour and Slavery. 

This whole of government Plan recognises that prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution and victim protection are all critical elements of a comprehensive approach. 

New Zealand is also an active member of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime.  This is an important regional forum of 45 countries in the Asia Pacific region focused on countering the humanitarian and security challenges associated with irregular migration – including human trafficking.

But Governments acting alone can only do so much.

We need the support of businesses to eradicate modern slavery. It is businesses that have the power to influence and implement change within supply chains, to drive up standards, and remove the profitability of trafficking and slavery.

The Government is committed to working with the private sector to do this. This is why we support the Bali Process Government and Business Forum, which brings together business leaders and ministers to consider ways to eradicate human trafficking, modern slavery and child labour across the region.

At the seventh Bali Process Ministerial Conference in August, business leaders of the Government and Business Forum endorsed a set of recommendations for closer collaboration to end modern slavery. The recommendations are built around three pillars: Acknowledge, Act, and Advance (AAA). They outline practical steps to raise awareness of modern slavery, to strengthen policies and legislative frameworks, and to implement ethical business practices.

We are committed to working with Rob Fyfe, New Zealand’s Business Leader representative at the Forum, and with all of you today to implement these recommendations.  

Many of you are already working hard to put systems in place across your businesses to address the risk of human trafficking and slavery.  You are some of the most influential companies in New Zealand.  You are well placed to lead by example.  Not all business leaders will be willing to prioritise these issues, but all of us here know it is the right thing to do. 

Once again thank you to the Mekong Club for hosting this event – today’s engagement will help this audience and government to better understand what needs to be done, and to equip us with some of the tools to be able to take more effective action on this important issue.