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Modern slavery goes against what New Zealand stands for

December 17, 2019

New Zealand made a strong commitment against modern slavery, by ratifying the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour. It became the forty-third country worldwide to ratify the Protocol, and the third one from the Asia and Pacific region.

Photo: Pancake Rocks, New Zealand (Bernard Spragg)

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The ILO estimates that nearly 25 million people worldwide are victims of forced labour. The Forced Labour Protocol requires ratifying States to take appropriate steps to prevent forced labour, to protect victims and ensure their access to justice and compensation.

“Forced labour and modern slavery, in any situation, goes against what we stand for as a country that supports the wellbeing of our people,” declared Iain Lees-Galloway, Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety after his visit to the ILO in June 2019, announcing that New Zealand was going to ratify the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour. “Becoming party to the Protocol sends a clear message of the importance that we place on tackling forced labour and other forms of modern slavery in New Zealand and around the world”, he added. “The protocol strongly aligns with our existing commitments and legislation, and with initiatives that we currently have underway to address people trafficking, forced labour and migrant exploitation more broadly. “

Indeed, on 13 December 2019, New Zealand ratified the Protocol, in the presence of His Excellency Ambassador Dempster of New Zealand and the Director-General of the ILO, Mr Guy Ryder.

“Forced labour is arguably one of the oldest and certainly the most shameful of labour practices. Its ongoing existence is both an affront to human rights and dignity and to the core principles and values New Zealand and the International Labour Organisation both stand for. By ratifying the Forced Labour Protocol, New Zealand confirms its strong commitment to eradicating forced labour in all its forms and to the global campaign to eradicate forced labour from the world” declared Jillian Dempster.

“I am pleased to receive this instrument of ratification, which bears witness to the commitment of New Zealand”, said Guy Ryder. “By ratifying the Protocol, New Zealand is moving ahead towards the achievement of decent work and the delivering at the country-level of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG target 8.7”.

At the country level, New Zealand has been engaged in combating trafficking in persons for a long time. In 2015, the legislation was revised to encompass internal, and not only cross-border trafficking. The Government has also taken measures to enhancing protection and assistance of victims of trafficking in persons. For instance, victims are entitled to seek legal employment and may be provided with accommodation assistance. The National Plan of Action to Prevent People Trafficking, adopted in 2009, offers protection and assistance to victims of trafficking, including health services, housing social services, and financial assistance. Victims are also provided support during the criminal justice process. It is currently being revised to reflect changes in legislation, the nature of people trafficking in New Zealand and better encompass the issues of forced labour, slavery and debt bondage.

With this ratification, New Zealand is also contributing to the ILO “One For All Centenary Ratification Campaign” launched by the International Labour Office in 2019 to celebrate the ILO’s 100th Anniversary.