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Modern slavery exists in New Zealand – but this revolutionary tool helps flush it out

  • On the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, Ethical VOICE, powered by AskYourTeam, launches to replace “broken and dangerous” worker social practice accreditation systems 
  • 100% anonymous participation – workers simply need a smartphone to access the platform
  • Over 1500 seasonal workers in the horticulture industry pilot the programme with positive results 

Dozens of industries are set to benefit from a simple yet sophisticated tool combatting modern slavery in New Zealand, officially launching 2nd December – the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. 

Modern slavery exists when workers are subjected to unethical, unsafe working conditions, bullying, sexual abuse, humiliation, coercion, and entrapment. Recent high-profile examples include liquor store baron Harjit Singh, who was found guilty of paying employees on work visas tied to the job less than minimum wage, and horticulture contractor Joseph Matamata who was convicted of human trafficking and slave trading in 2020. 

Until now, New Zealand businesses have been reliant on self-assessments or conducting social practise audits to weed out unethical practices. But both methods are open to corruption – self-assessments are inherently subjective, and social practice audits provide just a snapshot in time of a tiny portion of a business’ activity, with business owners able to manipulate results by selecting staff to take part in the programme.

“Not only is this method ineffective and open to influence, it’s broken and it’s dangerous,” says Chris O’Reilly, whose company – AskYourTeam – has developed the solution, Ethical VOICE.

Ethical VOICE identifies modern slavery by providing true transparency throughout a supply chain. A mobile-first online platform, it protects our most vulnerable workers by ensuring 100% privacy.  

With Ethical VOICE, every single worker within a company structure has the opportunity to give feedback, “which means no stone is left unturned within an organisation,” says Chris. “Ethical VOICE allows every worker the freedom to tell the truth in a safe, totally anonymous way, providing powerful data and insights to good employers. Employers can then work out how to improve worker wellbeing and measure progress by diving back into the tool, which is accessible anytime, anywhere.”  

Eventually, members of the public will be able to log on to see how their favourite winery, fashion retailer or mobile service provider stacks up when it comes to treating their labour force fairly and with respect. 

And the tool’s already being used successfully.  

With concerns about the potential for manipulation and abuse among seasonal workers, who often live on-site in shared accommodation, AskYourTeam partnered with NZ Apples and Pears to pilot the Ethical VOICE tool across five apple companies in Hawke’s Bay.

“This sector – along with many other sectors that rely on migrant labour – is at high risk for exploitation,” explains Chris. “Often, a company will be doing all it can at head office level to maintain a safe working environment throughout the business, yet at lower levels of the supply chain, pockets of exploitation exist. There are well documented issues both here and overseas where workers are bullied by other workers, forced to work in substandard conditions, and there is intimidation and sexual violence within the workforce. 

“In order to create a safe working environment free of corruption, we need to ensure our New Zealand employers are looking after every single person in the supply chain – and Ethical VOICE provides the means to do just that.” 

The fruit industry pilot took place during peak harvest season, with 1,524 respondents across a raft of countries, including Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Vanuatu and Tuvalu – along with New Zealand seasonal workers. Questions were translated into Bislama, Samoan, Tongan and Pijin, seeking anonymous information about pay, recruitment, raising problems and treatment at work. RSE workers were asked additional questions to cover accommodation and transport.  

“In order to create a safe working environment free of corruption, we need to ensure our New Zealand employers are looking after every single person in the supply chain – and Ethical VOICE provides the means to do just that.” 

Gary Jones, Manager Trade Policy & Strategy at NZ Apples and Pears, deems the pilot a huge success. “We were pleased to see that the mean score across all questions was 84% satisfaction” he says. “Overwhelmingly, workers expressed how happy they were to be working for their employer and contributing to their family’s income in the Pacific.

However, there was some very specific feedback around accommodation and employment conditions that Ethical VOICE was able to help uncover in a way that both protected the workers involved from any risk of speaking out, and allowed the employer to correct those issues.”

Now, Chris sees a bright future for the platform across a number of other sectors where modern slavery has been evident – viticulture, cleaning, and the contractor supply business within infrastructure and telecommunications. 

“But any industry benefits from Ethical VOICE,” he says, “because it takes a deep and wide look at what’s going on under the skin of a business and identifies any ‘toxic pockets’ that exist. Often these exploitative pockets occur within otherwise great companies. Ethical VOICE can solve that problem.” 

As an export nation, and with legislation expected mid-2022 intended to protect workers from modern slavery, Chris predicts we’ll increasingly need to prove to international buyers that our fresh produce, goods and other commodities are being grown, processed, picked, packed and shipped by workers who are safe, secure, and treated fairly at every point in the supply chain.  

“Why stop there?” asks Chris. “We envisage a day where our own major retailers insist on similarly high standards when it comes to modern slavery. We’d absolutely love to see Kiwi supermarkets and major retailers use Ethical VOICE so that consumers can check – and demand – that the items they purchase every day are produced without exploitation of any kind.” 

More about Ethical VOICE  
More on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery: https://www.un.org/en/observances/slavery-abolition-day  


For further information or to request an interview please contact: 
Fiona Fraser - Contentment PR and Communications 
027 501 3921 

Date: 2nd December 2021
Category: News
Chris O’Reilly
Chris O’Reilly
Chris co-founded AskYourTeam as a way to make it easier for leaders to ask their teams the most important (and the least-asked) question in business: “How can I help you do your job better?”
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