Anti-trafficking conference just the tip of the iceberg

Anti-trafficking conference just the tip of the iceberg

Human trafficking is a menacing and growing global problem, “hidden in plain sight” in every community, and the recent Tip of the Iceberg conference co-hosted by the diocese was an opportunity to discuss current action across multiple spheres of society, and develop cross-disciplinary approaches to disrupt the crime.  Collaboration was a key theme, and Bishop Eleanor, in her opening address, paid tribute to attendees representing so many aspects of society, from government to business and academia.  She reflected: “If intentional collaboration is the key need to overcome this problem, then my heart and spirit rejoice that our kōrero, our reflection, our discernment to action, takes place on this interwoven collaborative foundation.”

The diocese’s co-organiser of the conference, Chris Frazer, says that this is the first conference of its kind at which the business community has played such an important role.  “Trade is vital to our country and every other country.  Labour exploitation occurs in every country and is growing and it effects everyone, we cannot simply have a chat among those we work with and expect to make a real difference.”  With presentations from numerous businesses, as well as government agencies involved in immigration, employment and industry, the conference offered a beneficial platform on which all voices and all angles could be heard, and a constructive approach across spheres of society could be taken.

The conference featured keynote addresses from Justine Currell and Andrew Wallis from the United Kingdom, both of whom had been instrumental in the development of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which has revolutionised the country’s approach to trafficking and exploitation.  The Act has resulted in greater transparency of business supply chains, allowing consumers to see exactly how their goods are produced and the social impact on the people involved in their production, and encouraging businesses to pursue more ethical sourcing methods.

But perhaps a more surprising discovery has been the existence of trafficking within their own borders, of their own citizens.  Even in the United States, an annual report on trafficking identifies that the largest source of trafficked people in that country is from within their own borders.  In her keynote address, Justine Currell was blunt: “any country that thinks issues such as slavery don’t exist in their country has not looked,”  and the research backs up this assertion.  Dr Christina Stringer, from the University of Auckland’s Department of Management and International Business, found that the extent of exploitation in this country ranged from failure to comply with employment legislation through to violence and threats of death, and was most common in labour-intensive industries.  Her interviewees felt they were treated as slaves, and had commonly been subjected to deception by recruiters, who also perpetrated deception against compliance officials.

Andrew Wallis described modern slavery as being no different to the Transatlantic slave trade made illegal in the British Empire in 1833, in that trafficked people today have become commodities to be traded as were slaves from centuries ago.  Yet there are more people subject to slavery in today’s world than there were in the entire history of the Transatlantic slave trade, and not only is New Zealand not immune, our country is lagging behind in its response.  Our Chief Human Rights Commissioner, David Rutherford, told the conference that “New Zealand continues to put its head in the sand…. We need to face facts and do something about it.”  Despite the hard work already being done by government agencies within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, David was critical of New Zealand’s failure to meet minimum standards, exposing our industries to a loss of confidence in our national brand.

However despite his criticism, David commended the business community for “charging into the gap” and seeking transparency in their supply chains, as a base line for improving welfare of production workers and seeing their quality of life improve.  The Warehouse Group was one business represented at the conference, which has traded in New Zealand for 35 years – fourteen of which has involved their involvement in an ethical sourcing programme.  Whilst it can be challenging to implement these standards in environments where they go far beyond legal requirements, the Group sees transparency as a good baseline and is seeing significant income and living standards gains, health and safety improvements, greater awareness of worker rights and growing consumer interest over time.

Having heard presentations from a broad array of speakers, conference delegates worked together on recommendations for further action – including the development of a migrant rights group, educating immigrants as to their labour rights on arrival into New Zealand, and education of people in frontline positions to assist with identifying the signs and symptoms of someone being subject to exploitation.  Chris tells us that the work will most definitely continue beyond the conference, and that this is just the start of the process of getting people together and talking about the issues.  She says that these recommendations will be taken to the Consultative Group on Trafficking in Persons, of which the diocese is a member, for further discussion and action.  Furthermore, meetings with the US Embassy and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will occur as a follow up, and attendees at the conference will be invited to decide how they want to be involved in the future.

The full conference report is available here.