Government Releases New Plan On Modern Slavery: A Good Start But More Concrete Action Needed
The Human Trafficking Research Coalition is glad to see the government taking a stronger stand in addressing modern slavery. But the Coalition’s spokesperson, Selwyn Coles, insists “the Government’s new plan falls well short of what is needed to meet the realities of modern slavery, trafficking and exploitation within New Zealand shores, and New Zealand supply chains”.
The Minister, Hon Michael Wood, released the new all-of-government ‘Plan of Action against Forced Labour, People Trafficking and Slavery’ at a recent Wellington conference on worker exploitation and modern slavery. The conference was called Tango i te Kaupae Muri— Take the Next Step. The Coalition — a collaboration of five charitable organisations with deep expertise on these issues — agrees the plan is in some ways “a step in the right direction”.
“It is good to see the government investing more resources and attention into a range of tools for more effective victim identification, and strengthening the framework for enforcement and prosecution”.
Yet Coles says this refresh of the government’s strategy, which was last updated in 2009, still underplays the extent of the issues in New Zealand, and the need for a more comprehensive response.
“Modern slavery is not only a grave human rights priority globally, but needs to be a priority here in Aotearoa as well”, says Coles. “Research sponsored by the Coalition exposed extensive exploitation across numerous industries in New Zealand, particularly amongst migrant workers”. That ground-breaking research was conducted by Dr Christina Stringer of the University of Auckland in 2016, based on 100 interviews with (mostly) migrant workers.
The Coalition acknowledges we do not know the exact extent of the issues in New Zealand. But according to Coles, “we are likely only seeing the tip of the iceberg”.
“We are pleased the government has now committed to what the Coalition has long been asking for: more extensive government-funded research”. The Coalition believes this should include active monitoring of industries where exploitation is known to occur, including hearing from the voices of victims/survivors.
The Coalition is concerned too about exploitation occurring with the supply chains of New Zealand companies, and even the Government’s supply chains as well.
The Government reaffirmed its commitment to considering modern slavery legislation requiring companies to be transparent and accountable about their supply chains. The government’s plan refers to the UK and Australia where such legislation is already in place.
“While this formal commitment is unchanged from the 2009 plan, the government sounded positive and proactive about moving forward on this. But it is now time for concrete action,” says Coles.
The Coalition is also critical that the government’s plan mentions children only minimally, when we know that for every 10 trafficking victims detected globally, about five are adult women and two are girls. In NZ our ‘team of 5 million’ includes 1.18 million children and young people under the age of 18, so children should feature more prominently in this plan if we want to protect our tamariki.
To put children squarely in the radar, the Coalition is currently undertaking research into the discrepancies between the definition of child trafficking in the relevant international conventions and its definition in New Zealand.
“The government’s plan also currently focuses predominantly on labour trafficking and still does not adequately include other forms of modern slavery such as sexual exploitation”, says Coles. Gender is a factor contributing to vulnerability, with women and girls comprising over 71 percent of global trafficking victims. “We need to see some tangible commitments from the government to resourcing this important work”.
The Coalition was founded in 2013 in response to the under-recognised prevalence of human trafficking and exploitation within New Zealand. It has brought together World Vision, Tearfund, Hagar, ECPAT Child Alert, and The Préscha Initiative in an effort to tackle modern slavery in New Zealand.