Date posted: 27/10/2021 5 min read

Tackling modern slavery in our backyard

Chartered Accountants’ commitment to ethical conduct and robust and transparent reporting is key to tackling modern slavery risks.

In Brief

  • Modern slavery affects people of any age, gender or race
  • Accountants in business and practitioners advising clients can help improve transparency by assessing and addressing exploitative practices
  • Access a recorded webinar for an overview of modern slavery and sustainable business considerations in New Zealand

Conservative estimates place more than 40 million people in some form of modern slavery. It comes in many forms, from forced labour to debt bondage to child slavery, and affects people of any age, gender or race. And it sits at the extreme end of the exploitation continuum.

The exploitation continuum from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Plan of Action

The exploitation continuum from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Plan of Action

In a recent presentation on modern slavery and sustainable workplaces considerations for New Zealand (access the recording below), Marrit Mulder, Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability at Deloitte, observed that:

Modern slavery is not known about … even though it is a very prevalent practice in New Zealand and globally.
Marrit Mulder Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability at Deloitte

 It’s easy for exploitative practices to fall below the radar without transparency over operations and supply chains.
In the same presentation, Jonathan To, Principal Adviser with the Employer Systems and Assurance Team at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, noted that the Joseph Matamata case (the first to be convicted of human trafficking and slavery in New Zealand) was not a one-off. “Without understanding what’s happening in the supply chain … how can businesses be prepared to respond?” he asked.

Mulder pointed to the regulatory responses overseas, which have been mostly legislation requiring understanding, addressing and disclosing of the modern slavery risks. The idea being that if businesses first report on the exploitation risks in their operating environments (and throughout their supply chains), this will highlight where action needs to be taken. Transparency, therefore, is the place to start when it comes to addressing exploitative practices.

“It’s both a risk and an opportunity,” Mulder said. Organisations that address and mitigate the exploitation risks in their own workplaces and supply chains outperform their competitors. To observes that investors and stakeholders are already beginning to look more closely at this risk, so if “businesses are not already being asked [about what they’re doing], they’ll get questions soon”.

This is likely to be even more so if the New Zealand Government introduces legislation, which To said was something it committed to explore in its 2020 manifesto. A recent open letter signed by more than 100 New Zealand businesses (and still open for signatures) calls for policy action, which highlights the increasing demand for business transparency in this space.

But where does the accounting profession fit in?

Accountants are typically one of the key professional services that all businesses will engage with.
Jonathan To Principal Adviser with the Employer Systems and Assurance Team at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

Mulder noted that “accountants in business and practitioners advising clients can help improve transparency over exploitative practices and help stakeholders understand an organisation’s value beyond the financials”.

This means being aware of high-risk sectors and locations and understanding the global approach to tackling this challenge. It also requires supporting the risk management process as well as the subsequent reporting and assurance activities.

Yes, it’s a prevalent practice in New Zealand and around the world but the profession’s commitment to ethical conduct and robust and transparent reporting is exactly what we need to spot red flags and address them.

Complimentary Webinar

In case you missed the live version, you can view the recording of our sharing knowledge session “Modern Slavery and Sustainable Workplaces: New Zealand Considerations” here.

Open letter to government by New Zealand businesses

Access the joint letter urging the government to instigate an inquiry into whether New Zealand needs a Modern Slavery Act

Read more

Employment NZ’s ethical and sustainable work practices

Find guidance on ethical and sustainable work practices, end-to-end assurance practices and supply chain assurance

Click here