Push for law to stop products from forced labour being sold in NZ

The government is being urged to legislate to stop products made using forced labour making their way onto New Zealand shelves.
Some of New Zealands largest retailers including The Warehouse Group, Kathmandu, and Macpac are involved in the push.

The campaign comes as New Zealands Uyghur community accuses the government of failing to act on horrific human rights abuses in China.

Dozens of household goods from clothing to electronics, cars and appliances have been linked to the forced labour of Uyghur people in China.

  • WATCH: Deleted by Stuff Circuit

* Media goes on trial in China as Beijing escalates attacks on journalists
* Disgust at Chinas state-sponsored Uyghurface in Wellington
* The Detail: NZ treading a trade tightrope with China

I want the New Zealand government to wake up, Murat* told Stuff Circuit for its documentary Deleted. I want the New Zealand government to care.

It is estimated that up to 2 million Uyghurs have been detained in prisons and detention centres as part of a brutal crackdown on the ethnic minority in Xinjiang province.

Hundreds of thousands more have been made to work in state labour schemes within the region, or transported to factories across China.

Modern slavery legislation would bring New Zealand in line with countries such as the UK and Australia, although those countries have gone further by drafting laws to specifically stop the importation of goods from Xinjiang and those found using forced Uyghur labour in other parts of China.

One study estimated that between 2017 and 2019, 80,000 Uyghurs were taken to factories and made to work, live and undergo cultural re-education.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute last year identified 82 brands with links to factories using Uyghur forced labour many of them well-known sportswear names, car companies and consumer electronics brands.

ASPI senior analyst Kelsey Munro said it was hard to understand why New Zealand would be reticent to bring in modern slavery legislation.

Its hard to be pro-slavery, she told Stuff Circuit, for the documentary Deleted.

Legislation is one way of forcing transparency. It enables whole mechanisms of government to move in place to block the imports of goods that seem to be manufactured by forced labour.

Essentially, if you don't have reputational risk or legal compliance forcing these companies to invest the resources to make sure their supply chains are ethical ... they're not going to do it.

Stuff Circuit/Stuff
Kelsey Munro, a senior analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, documents human rights violations in Xinjiang, China.

Supply chain legislation introduced in other countries puts the onus on companies to examine each step and supplier in their production process and make declarations they are free of forced labour.

Britains Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in January the country was tightening existing laws in response to the Uyghur persecution, to make sure that UK businesses are not part of the supply chains that lead to the gates of the internment camps in Xinjiang.

Now organisations for ethical trade and human rights are calling on the New Zealand government to act on a 2019 promise to consider similar laws.

Trade Aid, World Vision, and Australian human rights organisation Walk Free will today hand the government a letter signed by 85 New Zealand businesses calling for action.

The Warehouse chief product officer Tania Benyon said New Zealand needs to keep pace with the rest of the world in ensuring greater transparency and action around modern slavery.

"New Zealanders want to know that overseas workers who make their products are treated fairly. Introducing modern slavery legislation in New Zealand will encourage businesses to work collaboratively to raise standards and stamp out modern slavery from supply chains.

Some of the 85 New Zealand businesses urging the government to act on modern slavery legislation.

A previous attempt to prohibit the importation of goods made by slave labour failed by one vote in 2016. It was supported by Labour, the Greens, NZ First and the Mori Party.

Bill sponsor Peeni Henare, now a minister, compared the introduction of a modern slavery law to the womens suffrage movement, New Zealands nuclear-free stance, and marriage equality legislation.

Brave positions taken by socially progressive parties and socially progressive politicians in Aotearoa New Zealand to make a change across Aotearoa New Zealand, and, indeed, in the world, he said in Parliament in 2016.

* Name changed to protect security.

  • Deleted was made with the support of NZ On Air.


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