Patel Schenk [back row, second from right] is one of a group of advocacy ambassadors for World Vision – Advocating for legislation to address modern slavery in New Zealand supply chains. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
erin.kavanagh-hall@age.co.nz

A Carterton student is doing her part to rid New Zealand stores of “risky goods” – and to help other Wairarapa rangatahi make their voices heard.

Patel Schenk is one of a group of young Kiwis volunteering as advocacy ambassador, for World Vision New Zealand – assisting with the aid organisation’s campaign to support modern slavery legislation.

At present, the Government is seeking feedback on a legislative proposal that aims to address links to modern slavery, child labour and worker exploitation within New Zealand supply chains.

A 2021 report from World Vision found New Zealanders are unwittingly spending more than $1700 a year on risky goods – imported items which are, very likely, produced by forced labour.

World Vision is calling on the public to “submit to support modern slavery law” – and has set up an online platform for people to make submissions on the proposed legislation.

As an advocacy ambassador, Patel’s role is to raise awareness of the issue of modern slavery and the New Zealand legislative context among her community.

Patel, a former Kuranui College student, is particularly focused on spreading the word among young people – with World Vision hoping to gather 1000 submissions from 18 to 25-year-olds.

Patel, doing a gap year before starting an engineering degree, became inspired to join World Vision’s ambassador advocacy programme after attending its youth conference last year.

She looks forward to engaging with her fellow “Zoomers” (Gen Z), said to be one of the most politically aware cohorts – and hoped making a submission would encourage young people to have their say on the issues most important to them.

“People are starting to realise that youth are politically active, we have opinions on important issues, and we care about what’s going on in the world,” Patel said.

“Young people also have the social capacity to make a difference – through things like social media, and by being involved at university, we can reach out to a lot of people.

“This is our future we’re talking about – and youth can have a hand in making our future look a bit brighter.”

Modern slavery, which includes forced labour, is defined by World Vision as “the severe exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain”.

According to the International Labour Organisation, an estimated 40.3 million people worldwide are subject to modern slavery – about two-thirds of which are in the Asia-Pacific region.

World Vision’s campaign advocates for the New Zealand legislation to require all organisations to take action if they become aware of modern slavery within supply chains, and publicly report on their actions – and for the law to introduce penalties for non-compliant companies.

“This law needs to make sure actual changes are made, and that all people are treated with respect and dignity,” Patel said.

“We need our supply chains to be transparent – so people can go to their supermarket and know they’re not spending money on products that have been made unethically.”

Patel said learning about the extent of modern slavery has been “eye-opening” and confronting.

“A lot of people may think ‘oh, slavery has been eradicated.’ But it’s still happening – and it takes forms you wouldn’t necessarily think of.

“World Vision’s report found the average New Zealand household spends $34 a week on products that have been implicated in modern slavery practices. For example, we receive clothes made in factories in Bangladesh – and about 77 per cent of the workers can’t afford food.

“Knowing that really makes it hit home.”

Patel hopes to continue advocacy work in her future career – for example, working as an engineer for humanitarian organisations.

“It feels really liberating, as a young person, to know I can potentially have an impact on the world.”

  • To make a submission, go to https://www.worldvision.org.nz/causes/advocacy/modern-slavery-act/.


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