Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

Poo fingers and remuera housewives

Once upon a time, in the Auckland suburb of Remuera, people started to get ill. Very, very ill. The kind of ill when it is coming out of both ends.

There were investigations into what could be causing it. Analysing the results, it was found that the common denominator was that in all the families who were sick, they had purchased blueberries from the same grocer. The blueberries came from a grower in the Hawkes Bay.


When Food Inspectors visited the grower, they found that pickers weren’t provided with bathrooms or proper breaks, so they were having to go to the toilet at the edge of the field. And with no taps to wash their hands, they were picking the blueberries with traces of poo on their fingers.

You see, NZ actually rates 52nd on the Global Slavery Index. The definition of modern slavery is someone who is:

  • forced to work – through coercion, or mental or physical threat;
  • owned or controlled by an ’employer’, through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse;
  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’;
  • physically constrained or have restrictions placed on their freedom of movement.

Not providing breaks and not providing toilet facilities is a form of slavery. So is paying migrants less than the minimum wage and making them work 80 hours a week. It’s not as bad as the way people are treated in the countries near the top of the list, but it shouldn’t be happening in New Zealand in 2017.

The bad news for employers who treat their employees badly is that the MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) Labour Inspectors are tracking down and prosecuting more and more companies who are doing this. And the number of Labour Inspectors is going to go up from 60 to 110 over the next 3 years.

Soon there will be no escape.

Slave conditions are appalling for those working under them but there are also unforeseen consequences – like the brown wave that hit Remuera. It is time to stand up and stop this happening. If you see or hear about appalling work conditions, call and let MBIE know.

And employers – step up the game. Treating your employees well doesn’t cost the earth. But if you don’t, it might just cost you your business.


Angela Atkins is People and Learning Director for Elephant Group NZ and Elephant Group UK – and also developed the Management Bites training programme. She is best-selling author of the bites series of books and is passionate about helping HR and managers create better businesses. If you’d like, you can follow her on Facebook. Angela is currently based in Hawaii launching Elephant there.


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This entry was posted on November 20, 2017 by in human resources and tagged , .
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