Migrant worker advocates say they’re sick of sounding like broken records trying to get action against modern slavery.
Migrant Workers Association president Anu Kaloti and EY director Gerri Ward both want better laws against slavery, as does the National Party.
Kaloti told the Herald some rogue employers using the accredited employer work visa were keeping people in slave-like conditions.
“That’s more widespread than people realise and we all have our own perception ... of what slavery looks like, so that makes it difficult for people to see it.”
She said thousands of people who arrived in New Zealand legally but had since overstayed visas were also being exploited by unscrupulous employers.
“People who are without visas here are the most exploited and they’re kept under slave-like conditions.”
Kaloti said making visas contingent on specific occupations or even working in certain regions was fine, but forcing people to stay with a specific employer left many bonded and vulnerable.
“There are more good employers than bad ones. It’s unfair on the good ones.”
Ward, EY director of climate change and sustainability, said the private sector was ahead of lawmakers on combating slavery and it was time for consumers to get ahead too.
“There is no counterfactual to having modern slavery legislation. Nobody is pro-modern slavery.”
Ward said Kiwis spent an estimated $3 billion a year on goods made with slave labour here and abroad.
She said some coffee, banana, textile and brick products were produced using modern slavery.
But consumers could look for Fairtrade certification on products, Ward said.
She said Fairtrade was a globally recognised certification agency. Fairtrade said it used independent certifiers to audit producers, traders and companies and check compliance with economic, social and environmental standards.
Ward said companies could assess their own impact with little or no added expense by reviewing supply chains.
“You get better procurement practices by derisking and demystifying your supply chain.”
She said modern slavery was more common than many people thought.
And she said calls from industry leaders had not resulted in obvious progress with lawmakers.
“It’s not about the woke left versus the right-wing capitalists. It’s ‘knowledge is power’.”
Ward said disasters this year including the summer floods and cyclones had put more New Zealanders in a vulnerable position.
“We’re seeing a combination of diminishing political will and increasing vulnerability.”
EY a year ago called for New Zealand to examine accountability legislation requiring transparency in supply chains or operations.
At the same time dozens of other companies called for similar action.
PwC defined modern slavery as an umbrella term used to cover slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking.
“My biggest worry is that because it’s election year there won’t be much progress,” said Dr Pushpa Wood, Massey University Financial Education and Research Centre director.
She raised concerns about sham marriages and migrant worker exploitation last year but was not aware of any legislative progress since then.
“Awareness is one thing, prevention is the second thing, prosecution is the third thing.”
These three steps had to be in place simultaneously for modern slavery to be tackled, she said.
Unscrupulous agents abroad were still exploiting prospective migrants with fake or misleading New Zealand job offers, Wood said.
“I heard last week somebody paid well over $20,000 back in India to actually come here.”
She said most employers were fair but migrants also needed to lower the risks of being exploited by doing thorough research.
“The migrant workers coming here, they also need to take some responsibility for doing due diligence before they leave home.”
The Recognised Seasonal Employers (RSE) scheme has also been under scrutiny, with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner last year finding some RSE working conditions were akin to modern-day slavery.
Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood’s office was approached for comment about anti-slavery law, rogue employers exploiting visa schemes, and EY raising concerns, but has not responded.
National Party workplace relations and safety spokesman Paul Goldsmith said Labour was too focused on ideologically driven fair pay agreements to tackle slavery.
“National supports the development of modern slavery legislation, so consumers can be confident they are not supporting slave labour,” Goldsmith said.
“The lack of progress from this Labour government, despite earlier promises, reflects their priorities,” he said.
“They have used all the policy bandwidth in this area on the ideological, misnamed Fair Pay agreements and have deprioritised getting on with modern slavery legislation.”
The Government in April last year said it would clamp down on modern slavery including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage and human trafficking.
Proposals included requiring all organisations to act if becoming aware of modern slavery or worker exploitation.
MBIE sought public feedback on modern slavery and worker exploitation laws.
In September it said most submitters, including businesses, wanted entities to take reasonable and proportionate action if becoming aware of modern slavery or exploitation.
But some legal and business advocates have said the proposals went too far.
They argued laws here should align with Australia’s, where organisations exceeding A$100m annual revenue must disclose the steps they are taking to combat potential slavery.