• Jackie Blue is the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner

An online search for news reports on migrant labour exploitation in the past 12 months has produced numerous articles from all over the country.

Last year, a prominent court case and the findings of a taskforce looking into breaches of labour standards, illustrated that human rights violations are a very real possibility for businesses in New Zealand.

Two people, involved in the management of the Auckland Indian Masala restaurants were sentenced on charges relating to the exploitation of workers.


Following that sentencing, the Labour Inspectorate found migrant and young workers were increasingly affected by widespread workplace abuse and exploitation.

The reports were met with the usual "That would never happen in New Zealand" and "It was probably just a one-off".

Despite high-level acknowledgement that these sorts of human rights violations have taken place, we continue to fail to come to terms with the idea they are happening in a number of industries in New Zealand. A significant part of this failure is a lack of knowledge about how to identify and prevent these violations.

They can be negative stereotypes or unconscious bias that lead to discriminatory practices and labour market inequalities across gender, ethnicity and age; the exploitation of workers in various sectors; the importation of unsustainable products from overseas or the lack of a traceable supply chain.

Right now, there will be a number of businesses in New Zealand who are taking positive action in preventing these sorts of violations, but they may not even realise it.

Now is the time to start the conversation. And it has to be an honest one.

Recently, the Commission did some desk-based scoping research on 100 of the largest companies in New Zealand to see how they are doing when it comes to managing human rights risks within their organisations. While almost 20 per cent of the businesses had Human Rights policies, only two of those were Kiwi-owned.

However, 48.5 per cent of the companies we looked at had a statement regarding their corporate social responsibility, 43 per cent had diversity inclusion policies or commitment statements in place and 29 per cent had policies in place for equal employment and the empowerment of women in business.

New Zealand is on the right track, but we need to build on our achievements if we are going to continue to trade on the world stage.

Increasingly, there are heightened expectations from governments, investors, business partners and civil society for businesses to 'know and show' how they are managing human rights risks and impacts.

As the ground swell for making human rights commitments grows worldwide and more international companies seek those same commitments from their business partners, New Zealanders cannot continue to turn a blind eye to human rights violations and fail to embed proactive human rights practices in their organisations.

Saying you are respecting human rights is no longer enough - customers need to see that you are.

In August, the leading experts on business and human rights are heading to New Zealand to impart their knowledge and talk about how we can improve on our position.

The Commission, like many organisations, has plenty to learn about what human rights and business looks like in New Zealand and we are excited about the opportunity this visit will present.

Kiwi businesses need to understand how human rights impact them.

They have to be armed with the tools and skills to be able to assess the who, what, where, when and why of their products and ensure they are doing right by every person in their supply chain and organisation.

Now is the time to start the conversation.

• For more on the Business and Human Rights Forum visit hrc.co.nz/business-and-human-rights-forum