How tech can help HR leaders root out 'modern slavery'

Why HR has an essential role when it comes to uncovering poor practice

How tech can help HR leaders root out 'modern slavery'

A new mobile-first online platform aims to root out “modern slavery” and replace ‘broken and dangerous worker social practise accreditation systems’, according to the solution’s founder.

Many HR departments could benefit from the simple yet sophisticated Ethical VOICE platform, according to Chris O’Reilly.

“There is a wide range of worker exploitation, human rights issues, aspects around being paid below the minimum wage, servitude and entrapment in particular jobs or roles attached to visas,” he told Radio New Zealand’s Jesse Mulligan.

“A number of expert organisations indicate there are up to 3,000 to 5,000 people in Aotearoa that sit at the extreme end of that category, and tens of thousands in lesser versions of that worker exploitation continuum.”

Recent high-profile examples include liquor store baron Harjit Singh, who was fined thousands of dollars for paying employees 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 relied on self-assessments or conducting social practice audits to flush out unethical practices. However, self-assessments are inherently subjective, and social practice audits are open to manipulation as they provide just a brief snapshot of a business’s activity.

“Not only is this method ineffective and open to influence, it’s broken and it’s dangerous,” added O’Reilly.

The solution gives every single worker within a company the opportunity to give feedback. “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.”

Read more: Why communication is key for HR leaders in 2022

Asked by RNZ’s Mulligan whether the fact the system had to be adopted by employers was a “design flaw”, O’Reilly responded, “What we are seeing already is that the good employers are wanting to pick it up, so with some momentum it will be obvious which employers don’t want to pick it up.” Consumers will eventually be able to get online and give preference to those who are running the system. They will be able to log on to see how their favourite winery, fashion retailer or mobile service provider is treating its workforce.

O’Reilly stressed that most employers are “fantastic”. However, he told RNZ “even the top employers, when they have run Ethical Voice, have found situations where they can make improvements and that has helped with staff retention, productivity and commitment. We see it as a win, win, win situation.”

The tool is already being used successfully - AskYourTeam partnered with NZ Apples and Pears to pilot the solution 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,” says O’Reilly. “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.”

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 said. “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.”

HR’s role in tackling “modern slavery”

For HR leaders, their impact comes in the form of regular compliance checks and up to date systems. Recently, employers across APAC have been accused of underpaying their employees, leading to huge lawsuits and unwanted press. As HR practitioners, if you mismanage your internal payroll systems, you’ll end up costing your C-suite thousands upon thousands of dollars.

The message? Stay on top of your tech – and look to implement new tools that bridge that communication gap between employer and employee. As we head into the New Year, ensure you’re compliant, confident, and conscientious in your practices.

Recent articles & video

Are salary hikes slowing down?

Worker sacked for ‘moods’ and ‘butting heads’ with manager

Supreme Court takes on post-employment restrictions

Using tech to track productivity

Most Read Articles

Revealed: HRD's Hot List winners for 2023

3 in 5 Australians considering quitting in 2023

What does ‘suitable role’ mean in a genuine redundancy?