Understanding Forced Labour Risks within the Supply Chain

04 December 2018

According to the International Labour Organisation there are more than 20 million people worldwide today in forced labour, while the Global Slavery Index suggests it is more than double that, with many working in the supply chains of western corporations.

Although New Zealand has strong policies and responses around slavery and instances of it are far smaller than in the rest of the Asia Pacific region, Glenn Simmons, Research Fellow at Auckland University Business School, estimates that in New Zealand up to 1,000 people are trapped in modern-day slavery. From a corporate perspective, Air New Zealand recently took prawns off the menu as they no longer had confidence that workers in that supply chain were being treated fairly.

Today, consumers are increasingly asking where their goods come from and who made them. The internet and social media are also spreading stories of corporate malfeasance to a much wider audience almost in real time. Reputational damage can be swift.

Resources do exist to manage these risks. For example, KnowTheChain is a resource for companies and investors to understand forced labour risks and inform decision-making in order to operate more transparent supply chains. The sectors it covers include food and beverage, information and communications technology, and apparel and footwear, benchmarking companies to identify and share best practice.

There is also Sedex, one of the world’s largest collaborative, non-profit platforms for sharing sourcing data on supply chains, with more than 50,000 members in over 150 countries. They store company information on ethical and responsible practices covered by ILO conventions and industry-specific codes of conduct, information members can use to evaluate organisations.

In June of this year Kate Nichol from State of Flux gave a very interesting talk at the Centre of Supply Chain Management, addressing sustainability in the supply chain in particular from a modern slavery perspective. The video of the presentation can be found here.

With New Zealand being a trade-led economy with a reputation for maintaining high standards – not to speak of Kiwi’s natural lean towards things being fair – ensuring that our supply chains across both imports and exports are risk-free can only be good for brand NZ.


Marcus Rinaldi
Principal Advisor Business Productivity and Sustainability
Associate Director - The Centre for Supply Chain Management
The University of Auckland Business School