The Mekong Club Newsletter: Speaking Tour in New Zealand

Between October 24 to November 4, 2018, Matthew Friedman, CEO of the Mekong Club, visited New Zealand to offer a range of trainings and presentations to different audiences interested in the issue of modern slavery. Below are some of Matt’s observations from this trip.

“While in New Zealand, I made 25 presentations to banks, manufacturers, retailers, churches, and schools.  Like many of my previous country trips, the objectives were similar: to create a general understanding of the issue; to help companies understand the potential vulnerability to their business; to collect relevant information to understand what is already being done; and to encourage the audiences to join the overall fight to solve the problem.  

Even before going to New Zealand, I was always surprised how many people from this small country were interested in this topic.  Within the work the Mekong Club does in Hong Kong, there has always been a disproportionate number of people from New Zealand who have stepped up to help.  This includes our chairman, board members, volunteers and other contributors. It seems that addressing justice issues appears to be within the DNA pool of this country.

I felt the same way during my three-city tour.  Nearly every place I visited, people from the audience stood up and talked about how something urgently needed to be done to address the problem.  At a chamber of commerce meeting in Christchurch, one of the participants said “This situation of forced labour in supply chains is completely unacceptable.  We need to all find a way to see that this doesn’t happen. It is simply the right thing to do.” Another participant at a government presentation in Wellington stated “I had no idea the problem was so extensive.  We need to all bring this up at our next staff meetings. We must all play a role in stopping this.”

At a presentation for Auckland business leaders sponsored by the Business New Zealand and Skycity, the Deputy Prime Minister in his opening remarks described how the business sector has a major role to play in addressing the issue of modern slavery.   He went on to state that the New Zealand government would do whatever was needed to tackle the problem at home and abroad.

Since returning from this trip, I have had over a dozen people follow up with calls and emails seeking to play a role in helping to fight the problem.  I have seldom seen so much spontaneous desire to help. It clearly demonstrates that people from New Zealand not only care about world issues, they also are willing to take it to the next step – to act.”  

By Matt Friedman, CEO, the Mekong Club

Listen to Matt Friedman’s extended interview with Radio New Zealand here

Apprise Audit App: Increasing Frequency and Accuracy of Workers’ Interviews

Interviewing workers is a critical component of social audits, as it gives them a ‘voice’ to provide feedback on their employment conditions, highlighting areas that auditors can further examine to determine whether labour violations exist in the workplace.

However, several factors hinder the quality and frequency of interviews during audits. The most recurrent ones are: time constraints; language barriers; lack of trust between the auditor and the worker, or between the worker and the interpreter; workers’ fear of reprisals for speaking up; and different indicators used to analyse the results of interviews.

The objective of the Apprise Audit app is to empower workers to have their voices heard during social audits, thereby increasing the chances of identifying possible exploitation through a cost and time-effective standardised process.

Being able to collect multiple workers’ feedback in a timely and cost-effective way gives auditors access to a more representative sample than one-to-one interviews. The privacy and confidentiality offered by the app encourage workers to indicate issues – especially migrants, who are often excluded from the process because they don’t speak the country’s language.

The app highlights potential red flags in a consistent way, eliminating the need for personal judgment or interpretation. This will increase the chances of prompt follow-up action by brands towards suppliers, including corrective action plans and remediation/compensation where applicable, aimed at improving labour conditions.

Finally, the data stored in the company’s server can be easily analysed and compared – for example, between competing factories or between audits conducted in the same factory over a certain period, helping brands identify trends and make more informed sourcing decisions.

The Mekong Club and the United Nations University, Institute on Computing and Society have developed the first Apprise Audit prototype which will be tested with four major companies in their supply chains in the coming months.

The Asia Pacific Banks Alliance Against Modern Slavery White Paper Launch in 2019   

The Asia Pacific Banks Alliance (APBA) was established this year in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, building on the work of similar alliances in the US and Europe. The APBA brings together 14 international financial service providers in a commitment to collaborate and combat modern slavery in their operations.

The first task that the Alliance has committed to is the production of a white-paper of modern slavery ‘indicators’ covering the demographic, geographic, and transactional red flags that may be used to identify potential modern slavery activity. Over the past year, the group has been working on producing this paper, which also includes analysis of industry risk, country risk, and ‘best practice’ recommendations. In Q1 2019, the published paper will be distributed and the Alliance will embark on a mission over 2019 to disseminate the messages within to financial institutions, banking associations, law enforcement, and regulators across the Asia Pacific region.

The Mekong Club looks forward to sharing this paper with you and invites interested institutions to get in touch to learn more about how they can get involved with the APBA in 2019.

Private Sector Assessment Reports

This month, The Mekong Club is adding the final two reports to the Private Sector Assessment series: China and Indonesia.  Both countries occupy unique positions in the globalized world. The Private Sector Assessment Reports provide a broad overview of these countries in terms of demographics, private sector scope and industry activity. It also investigates the extent of modern slavery and human-trafficking in-country.

Download the Private Sector Assessment reports here.

The Mekong Club wishes all members, partners and friends a very happy holiday seasons and a successful 2019! We look forward to continuing working with you in the new year!

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