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New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister announces the introduction of new modern slavery legislation

Modern Slavery

New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Carmel Sepuloni, has announced the introduction of new modern slavery legislation, in a bid to improve transparency and accountability.

The proposed law – which is in the drafting phase and expected to take six months – will introduce mandatory reporting for companies with an annual revenue of NZ$20 million or more.

This will be in the form of an annual statement, which will be accessible on a public register, identifying modern slavery risks within the entity’s operations and supply chains.

Organisations (including churches, trusts and incorporated societies) will also be required to report on what they are doing to address and mitigate the identified risks.

Failure to comply with the requirements will lead to fines ranging from approximately NZ$10,000 up to NZ$200,000.

“We’re taking action to address modern slavery and eliminate exploitation in our supply chains. It’s vital we bring modern slavery practices out of the shadows and into the daylight, so we can ensure workers are safe and treated with dignity” said Sepuloni, who is also Workplace Relations and Safety Minister.

“Our focus on larger organisations strikes an appropriate balance, by encouraging those most able to influence their more extensive supply chains, and not overburdening small businesses.”

According to the Global Slavery Index, an estimated 50 million people were living in modern slavery in 2021, including 8,000 people living in New Zealand. This was an increase of 10 million people since 2016.

Chair of the Modern Slavery Leadership Advisory Group, Rob Fyfe, added: “I admire businesses who are taking the lead in addressing modern slavery and not waiting for legislative change.”

“But we must create a level playing field and ensure that as business leaders, our quest for cost competitiveness does not come at the cost of enabling modern slavery practices within our operations and supply chains.”

Sepuloni suggested it could be “about three years” before the legislation is finalised.

At the outset, the proposal sounds similar to Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, but with a significantly lower reporting threshold and financial penalties – creating new legal obligations for a substantial number of businesses.

Luke Geary, Partner at Mills Oakley, supports the legislation, “It is great to see another large Pacific nation look to enact modern slavery legislation, following on from the implementation of Australia’s law back in 2018” he said.

“We know that the majority of the world’s modern slavery crimes are being committed in the Asia-Pacific region, so the more our leading companies can contribute to identifying, assessing and addressing modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains, the better our chances as a society of combatting this evil behaviour”.

PASA CONNECT will be featuring Luke Geary in a special webinar for members soon after the Big Breakfast event in Auckland on 31st August.

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