Modern slavery and worker exploitation

In Aotearoa New Zealand, we aim to treat people fairly and with dignity.

Modern Slavery and Worker Exploitation are serious forms of exploitation seen internationally and within New Zealand. Addressing these practices requires a whole-of-society response, undertaken through strong partnerships across government agencies and with civil society, businesses, unions, academia and international partners.

What we proposed

Over April and May 2022, we sought feedback on new legislation that aims to achieve freedom, fairness and dignity in the operations and supply chains of entities to address modern slavery and worker exploitation both in New Zealand and internationally. 

The proposal would create new responsibilities across the operations and supply chains of all types of organisations in New Zealand, with more responsibilities for larger organisations:

  • All organisations would be required to take action if they become aware of modern slavery or worker exploitation
  • Medium and large organisations would be required to disclose the steps they are taking
  • Large organisations and those with control over New Zealand employers would be required to undertake due diligence.

The primary objective for the proposals is to reduce modern slavery and worker exploitation in New Zealand and elsewhere, helping to build practices based on fairness and respect.

The secondary objectives that support this primary objective are to:

  • enhance New Zealand’s international reputation as a country that supports human rights and transparency
  • strengthen New Zealand’s international brand and make it easier for our businesses to continue to trade with the world
  • support consumers to make more informed choices in relation to modern slavery and worker exploitation risks associated with good and services
  • drive culture and behaviour changes in entities which lead to more responsible and sustainable practices
  • level the playing field for entities which act responsibly across their operations and supply chains.

The legislation would only be one part of the picture and it will need to be accompanied by extensive promotion, guidance and support for entities. We need to build a collective understanding of the issues and a long-lasting culture change which encourages collaboration.

Next steps 

The Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety recently announced its commitment to address modern slavery by introducing new legislation that requires organisations and businesses to be transparent about their operations and supply chains through a new public register.

You can read the press release at:

Government prescribes daylight disinfectant to modern slavery(external link) —

What is modern slavery

Modern slavery is severe exploitation that a person cannot leave due to threats, violence or deception. It includes forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery, and human trafficking.

Modern slavery and worker exploitation have no place here or overseas. Yet, the International Labour Organization estimates there are 40 million victims of modern slavery in the world, while in New Zealand numerous cases of exploitation have been identified in recent years.

Modern slavery and worker exploitation, whether it occurs here or overseas, negatively impacts us all. Victims and survivors of modern slavery and worker exploitation can face severe physical and emotional harm that can last for the rest of their lives.

The use of modern slavery and worker exploitation in supply chains also creates an environment based on unfair competition, in which exploitative practices can be leveraged to get ahead. While more New Zealanders want to buy from responsible businesses and support responsible entities, it is not always easy to determine which organisations have put effective measures in place. Many are making claims about their practices, but the vast majority of people will not be in a position to verify those claims.

Definition of worker exploitation

Worker exploitation in this proposal includes non-minor breaches of employment standards in New Zealand.

How is New Zealand currently addressing modern slavery and worker exploitation?

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, alongside other government agencies have worked on an all-of-government plan of action against forced labour, people trafficking and slavery. This sets out a high-level framework for the actions that agencies will take over 5 years to 2025, to combat these practices. You can read more about this work.

Plan of action against forced labour, people trafficking and slavery

Consultation on modern slavery and worker exploitation - now closed

Acronyms and glossary
Last updated: 31 July 2023