There is pressure on New Zealand’s export industry to clean up its act following high-profile cases of migrant worker exploitation. Major UK supermarket chains have threated to pull New Zealand’s products off their shelves—something that would create lasting damage to the industry and New Zealand’s trading reputation.
As consumers become more invested in proper trading practices, there is enormous pressure on every aspect of the supply chain to operate cleanly and ethically. Iain Lees-Galloway, New Zealand’s Immigration Minister, said that these near misses show the risk involved and the severity of the issue. He urges the Government to continue trying to eradicate worker exploitation.
The coalition Government is in the process of implementing new policies and undertaking more research in order to understand the problem entirely, but many believe that it is only a matter of time before someone gets caught out. Lees-Galloway thinks that only a few bad employees could do damage to their respective industries and New Zealand’s reputation as a trading nation.
People are concerned that UK supermarkets will make good on their threats. According to Lees-Galloway, “We’ve dodged a few bullets so far.” However, according to the Head of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc. Nikki Johnson, for a product to be pulled from the shelf, or even the threat of that happening, there would have to be a severe breakdown in the supply chain.
The risk this brings for New Zealand exporters is serious. Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said, “All the major exporters and growers are all very concerned about making sure they don’t have any of this happening.” Although the horticulture industry uses plenty of schemes to monitor worker exploitation, there are still workers that slip through the cracks. “You can be looking after your own patch, but if the guy down the road isn’t playing the game, that’s another issue.”
Regardless of the implications, the correct treatment of workers is imperative. It is also essential that these issues do not get blown out of the water. With 98% of New Zealand’s fruit being exported, for instance, there is a lot of weight behind the outcome. All industries need to adhere to regulations and be transparent and communicative with suppliers and consumers alike.