Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

Six organisations are calling on the Government to do more to prevent human trafficking following a new study that reveals widespread worker exploitation in New Zealand.

The research was commissioned by six non-governmental organisations (NGO) after human rights abuses were exposed on foreign charter boats.

The report, "Worker exploitation in New Zealand: a troubling landscape", showed modern-day slavery was happening across many industries including hospitality, construction and dairy.


This year Korean fishing boat Oyang 77, which operated in New Zealand waters, had eight charges of illegally dumping fish laid against it. There were also reports of crews being beaten and forced to work for minimal pay.

Researcher Dr Christina Stringer said as well as being a serious human rights issue, the exploitation of migrant workers put New Zealand's reputation at risk.

Stringer interviewed 105 people over two years. Some of the most common exploitation included excessive work hours without breaks (up to 18 hour shifts and 80 to 90 hour weeks), no pay or severe underpayment, and degrading treatment such as being denied bathroom breaks and verbal or physical abuse.

dr christina stringer

Dr Christina Stringer's study reveals tales of low pay, verbal and physical abuse and excessive work hours without breaks.

In the horticulture industry, for example, workers were commonly paid less than the minimum wage, with some being paid as little as $5 an hour.

In hospitality, one worker reported getting paid for four to five hours of work despite working 90-hour weeks.

A farm worker said they had to kill more than 300 bobby calves with a hammer and others reported poor working conditions, lack of pay and poor treatment of animals.

Those interviewed in the construction industry reported entering into debt bondages to pay recruitment fees of about $10,000 each. When they arrived in New Zealand, their work experience documents and passports were held by an immigration advisor until they had paid their fees off.

Stringer said many temporary migrants put up with exploitation so they can get permanent residency, or because they were forced or lied to by their employer.

"These workers' contribution to our economy must be valued and the vulnerable among them must be properly protected," she said.

Co-ordinator for the Union Network of Migrants (Unemig) Dennis Maga‚Äč said those exploiting migrant workers were often immigrants themselves.

"Employers have learned how to circumvent the law because they have learned to avoid paper trails and pay workers in cash to avoid persecution ... because they themselves were once in the same position as these migrant workers."

Maga said Unemig dealt with  six cases a month of small employers exploiting one to three migrant workers at a time. These types of employers made up the bulk of those exploiting migrant workers.

"The Government must introduce a new way to prosecute the small players because there are many of them and they're getting away with it," he said.

Exploitation of current and former international students was rising, Maga said.

Sixty per cent of Unimeg's cases involved current and former international students.

A promise of full-time work could often entice international students into an exploitative workplace.

A publishing company had promised international students full-time work in exchange for $15,000 to $20,000 and pay below minimum wage, he said..

There were many problems that are a byproduct of the Government's failure to implement harsh penalties against employers.

"Either they should be deported to their country of origin or we should sentence them to imprisonment, frankly that will send a message," Maga said.

The NGOs, which include Stand Against Slavery and Child Alert (or ECPAT NZ), are calling for the Government to set up a human trafficking office and fund more research into vulnerable groups.

The group is also calling on a private sector investment, a mandatory country induction for migrant workers to explain their rights and where to get help and a red flag system to identify trafficking and labour exploitation.

Stand Against Slavery chief executive Peter Mihaere said the report showed slavery was right in our backyards and action was needed immediately.

"Let us be very clear, this research is just the beginning. We need to work together, carry out more in-depth research and put in place solutions needed for New Zealand to be exploitation and slavery free."

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