Ten years ago in Dhaka, Bangladesh, garment makers were forced to go to work at the Rana Plaza factory, a structurally compromised building that later collapsed leaving more than 1,100 dead and thousands more injured. Workers were threatened with losing out on their pay or being fired from their jobs if they did not agree to work. This preventable disaster forced the world to reckon with the true cost of cheap clothes: the exploitation and lives of garment workers.
Slow progress in New Zealand
Rana Plaza lifted the veil on the dark reality of the clothing industry. Since then many countries have passed legislation in an attempt to address forced labor and modern slavery in clothing supply chains. But progress towards a modern slavery law in New Zealand has been slow with numerous setbacks.
Morgan Theakston, advocacy campaigns and communications manager for World Vision NZ, tells Stuff:
When we browse clothing racks in New Zealand’s malls or tap “add to cart” online, we still cannot be confident that those whose hands have painstakingly made the clothes we’re buying have not been forced into labour or robbed of their childhood.
Though New Zealand has made some progress, delays and setbacks have prevented a modern slavery law from being passed.
The New Zealand government closed a consultation on an anti slavery law in April 2022 and promised to introduce the bill by the end of the year. This has yet to be done.
The proposed law would oblige companies to identify and address cases of forced labor in their supply chains. Additionally companies would need to make these cases public and these would then be recorded in a government registry.
Why not sooner?
Right now, there are millions of people all over the world being forced to work to produce goods that we use every single day. But we can help change this by requiring big business and governments to act. As it stands, many countries’ legislation to hold businesses accountable for forced labor doesn’t go far enough to protect workers. Effective modern slavery laws are essential, and so is mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation. This would require companies and governments to enact preventative measures, conduct robust risk analyses, and face punishments for failing to prevent all human rights violations—including human trafficking and forced labor—in their supply chains.