New Zealand Criticised For Slavery, Sex Trafficking

Children are forced into prostitution in New Zealand

“New Zealand’s anti-slavery laws lave been found wanting in a report by the US State Department which says New Zealand is a source of underage girls for the sex trade and a destination for foreign workers subjected to forced labour on fishing boats.

The list of abuses is revealed in the department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report released by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Mrs Clinton called for trafficking “to be labelled for what it is, slavery“.

The report identifies domestic issues.

A small number of girls and boys, often of Maori or Pacific Island descent, are trafficked domestically to engage in street prostitution while some are victims of gang-controlled trafficking rings.”

Some Asian and Pacific Island people who migrate to New Zealand to work in the agriculture sector are also subsequently forced to work in conditions not stipulated in their contracts and are charged excessive fees.

In May, the New Zealand government announced that within four years foreign-owned fishing vessels will need to be re-flagged as New Zealand ships, and therefore subject to the country’s laws, if they want to continue fishing in its waters.

The move was a response to allegations of human rights abuses, low wages and misreported catches aboard some of the 27 Korean flagged boats currently fishing.

The State Department report says New Zealand does not have comprehensive anti-trafficking laws and does not criminalise all forms of forced labour.

“Although slavery is prohibited, its definition only covers situations of debt bondage and serfdom; thus, this prohibition does not cover forced labour obtained by means other than debt, law, customs, or agreement that prohibits a person leaving employment,” the report says.

It recommends that New Zealand enact law to prohibit and adequately punish all forms of human trafficking.

New Zealand also needs to increase efforts to prosecute both sex and labour trafficking offenders.”


New Zealand’s report

“New Zealand is a source country for underage girls subjected to internal sex trafficking and a destination country for foreign men and women subjected to forced labor.

Foreign men, largely from Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand, are subjected to conditions of forced labor, including debt bondage, aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels in New Zealand waters.

Alleged conditions experienced by workers on these boats – most of which are Republic of Korea (South Korea)-flagged – include confiscation of passports, imposition of significant debts, physical violence, mental abuse, and excessive hours of work. Prior press reports and the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking have indicated that fishermen from Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia are also allegedly victims of forced labor on fishing vessels in New Zealand waters.

Foreign women, including some from China and Southeast Asia, may be recruited from their home countries by labor agents for the purpose of prostitution and may be at risk of coercive practices. A small number of girls and boys, often of Maori or Pacific Islander descent, are trafficked domestically to engage in street prostitution while some are victims of gangcontrolled trafficking rings.

Some Asian and Pacific Islander individuals migrate voluntarily to New Zealand to work in the agricultural sector and are subsequently forced to work in conditions different from what was stipulated in their contracts.

Some foreign workers report being charged excessive – and escalating – recruitment fees, experiencing unjustified salary deductions and restrictions on their movement, having their passports confiscated and contracts altered, or being subjected to a change in working conditions without their permission – all indicators of human trafficking.

The Government of New Zealand fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. During the reporting period, the government initiated research to investigate the extent of human trafficking in the fishing sector and in the legalized sex trade; however, it made no convictions or prosecutions under the country’s trafficking legislation. Additionally, the government is undertaking a legal review of national anti-trafficking legislation to ensure its compliance with international norms.

While a trafficking investigation continued at the end of the reporting period, and potential victims were identified and provided with some services, the government did not formally identify any persons as trafficking victims during the year.

Recommendations for New Zealand:

Draft and enact legislation that will expand New Zealand’s current antitrafficking legal framework to prohibit and adequately punish all forms of human trafficking;

update the 2009 national plan of Action to reflect the current trafficking in persons situation in the country; make greater efforts to assess the full extent of sex and labor trafficking occurring in New Zealand;

significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute both sex and labor trafficking offenders; investigate and prosecute employment recruiting agencies or employers who subject foreign workers to debt bondage or involuntary servitude;

continue and increase efforts to proactively screen vulnerable populations, including women in prostitution, foreign workers, and illegal migrants, in order to identify and assist trafficking victims;

increase efforts to identify and assist child sex trafficking victims; continue to make proactive efforts to identify victims of labor trafficking, particularly among populations of vulnerable foreign laborers;

and implement an ongoing anti-trafficking awareness campaign directed at clients of both the legal and illegal sex trades.


The Government of New Zealand made efforts to investigate suspected trafficking offenses but failed to convict and punish any trafficking offenders during the reporting period.

New Zealand does not have a comprehensive anti-trafficking law. Although the government maintains that its trafficking laws comply under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, it announced during the year that it would undertake a review of its laws to ensure that they are in fact consistent with international anti-trafficking norms and the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

Current New Zealand statutes which explicitly define human trafficking provide a narrow definition of trafficking as a transnational offense, while other provisions, specifically those found in the Crimes Act of 1961, address some forms of forced labor and domestic trafficking offenses. It appears that New Zealand law does not criminalize all forms of forced labor.

First, although slavery is prohibited, its definition only covers situations of debt bondage and serfdom; thus, this prohibition does not cover forced labor obtained by means other than debt, law, custom, or agreement that prohibits a person from leaving employment.

Because the prohibition of trafficking is limited to transnational actions such as the abduction, use of force or threat, or force, coercion, or deception to arrange entry into New Zealand – and does not include reference to exploitation, there appears to be no legal prohibition on the domestic recruitment, transfer, or transportation of adults for the purpose of exploitation.

Furthermore, there do not appear to be additional prohibitions covering types of forced labor, such as that which is coerced by overt force or compelled by other means, which do not fit into the laws’ narrow definition of slavery.

The Dealing in Slaves statute and the Prostitution Reform Act criminalize sex trafficking. These statutes prohibit inducing or compelling a person to provide commercial sexual services and, with regard to children, provide a broader prohibition to include facilitating, assigning, causing, or encouraging a child to provide commercial sexual services. While statutory penalties for these crimes are generally commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape, the maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment prescribed for the sex trafficking of children is not commensurate with penalties imposed for rape or with the maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment prescribed for inducing or compelling the commercial sexual services of an adult.

Previous research indicates that children have been prostituted, including by gangs, and the government acknowledges the risk of exploitation of some children. However, there were no such victims identified or cases reported during the year.

The Crimes Act of 1961 and the Wages Protection Act of 1983 prohibit fraudulent employment and recruiting practices, though the government has never prosecuted suspected trafficking offenders under these laws, which prescribe sufficiently stringent penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine in an amount equivalent to $250,000.

These penalties are commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

The Immigration Act prohibits retention or control of a person’s passport or any other travel or identity document, though there were no prosecutions for passport confiscation during the year.

During the reporting period, the government initiated six criminal investigations concerning forced labor on South Korean-flagged fishing vessels operating in New Zealand waters and under charter by New Zealand registered companies; these investigations remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period. Reports regarding forced labor on the South Korean-flagged fishing vessels revealed several abuses, including mental and physical abuse, sexual harassment, and withholding of payment or altered compensation.

Although the government has charged the six South Korean-flagged fishing vessels for environment –related offenses, including the dumping of fish to evade quotas, it has yet to charge them with alleged forced labor of crew members.


The government demonstrated efforts to protect human trafficking victims during the reporting period. The country’s laws require that victims of crime, including human trafficking, receive access to and information about services including medical care, legal aid, and psycho-social counseling; the government offers these services to individuals on a caseby- case basis.

Also on a case-by-case basis, the New Zealand police, provide amenities, such as food and shelter, to meet the immediate needs of victims of crime and refer them to NGOs or other service providers.

Over 120 possible victims of forced labor aboard foreign chartered vessels in the commercial fishing industry were identified by NGOs and the government during the reporting period. The majority of these individuals, all men, claimed severe underpayment of wages, and some also alleged experiencing additional abuse.

These conditions aboard the vessels led to several crews leaving their ships en masse during the reporting period. Thirty-two Indonesian fishermen were provided immediate welfare, including short-term shelter and food during the initial phase of one subsequent investigation.

Additionally, immigration officials granted six crew members temporary visas, with work rights, to remain in the country to represent the crews’ interests in the recovery of wages, to provide testimony regarding fish dumping in contravention of environmental regulations, and to assist in the ongoing investigation of human trafficking aboard the vessels.

The remaining members of this crew returned to Indonesia. Members of other crews have been repatriated.

New Zealand’s laws authorize temporary residency to victims of trafficking for up to 12 months and makes them eligible for a variety of government-provided or government-funded services.

During the reporting period, a citizen of New Zealand was repatriated from the Philippines after being subjected to human trafficking. Upon her return to New Zealand, she received appropriate trafficking victim support services, including medical and counseling services.


The Government of New Zealand continued to make efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting year.

The Ministry of Social Development continued to distribute brochures on trafficking indicators in six languages to regional departments, which distributed them to community groups, as well as those in the sex trade and the horticulture and viticulture industries.

At the Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch international airports, the Department of Labor displayed posters warning people of trafficking vulnerabilities and providing websites where migrant workers can seek additional help.

In the months preceding the Rugby World Cup, hosted by New Zealand in September and October 2011, Immigration New Zealand worked with law enforcement agencies in potential source countries, such as Australia, South Africa, Hong Kong, and Singapore to develop a strategy to prevent transnational trafficking, including through the relocation of law enforcement staff and other resources.

During the reporting period, Immigration New Zealand started a nationwide operation increasing the monitoring of brothels to ensure compliance with applicable laws and to identify victims of human trafficking, including forced labor or debt bondage.

The Department of Labor established a working group to examine issues that affect vulnerable migrant workers, specifically those on dairy farms, and the government funded a study based in Auckland on migrant women in the legal sex trade to explore conditions that may lead to their exploitation and coercion.

In response to a series of academic, NGO, and press reports on the significant prevalence of forced labor aboard South Korean-flagged fishing vessels operating in New Zealand waters, the Government of New Zealand commissioned a ministerial inquiry in September 2011 to examine the extent of allegations of trafficking and mistreatment of crews, complaints of underpayment, questions about vessel safety standards, and reported breaches of fisheries and environmental regulations.

The ministerial inquiry released its final report in March 2012, outlining 15 recommendations, of which six were immediately accepted by the government; other recommendations, some requiring legislative changes, are said to be long-term and remain under consideration. Perhaps the most significant recommendations are those that call on the government to amend the Fisheries Act of 1996 to restrict foreign chartered vessels operating within New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone to those under direct charter agreements, and to require all crews on these vessels to be covered under New Zealand employment contracts guaranteeing adequate wages and working conditions.

The government’s inter-agency working group on trafficking, led by the Department of Labor, met twice during the reporting period. The government did not take significant steps to reduce the overall demand for commercial sex acts in the decriminalized commercial sex industry. During the reporting period, the Department of Labor developed an online training module on trafficking in persons to make compulsory for all new staff.

The government trained customs, immigration, labor, and police officers on identifying victims of trafficking and on victim interview techniques. Front-line customs officers received training aimed at raising their awareness of trafficking indicators and were provided templates of possible questions to ask if they encounter suspected victims of human trafficking.

No women in prostitution were identified as trafficking victims by compliance inspectors during their interviews of women in brothels. In November 2011, a man was found guilty for facilitating child sex tourism to Thailand through a website. He was the first person in New Zealand to be charged with such an offense, and in February 2012 he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

The government provided anti-trafficking training to military personnel prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.”

One thought on “New Zealand Criticised For Slavery, Sex Trafficking

  1. Fishy business…how many more webs are going to be spinned and discovered….
    Good work Mr Fisher for maintaining your journalistic professionalism…keep digging…

    The Prime Minister’s office was involved in shutting down information showing one government department tipping off another over FBI interest in internet magnate Kim Dotcom long before he was arrested.

    Emails released under the Official Information Act show staff at the Department of Labour took advice from “the PM’s office” before dodging questions on a leaked email.

    It came amid calls for an inquiry into the Government’s handling of the United States request to extradite Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing site Megaupload. He and three colleagues face extradition to the US on charges of criminal copyright violation.

    The High Court ruled last week that the search and seizure during the arrest was illegal – the third embarrassment suffered by the Crown on the issue.

    In May, the Herald obtained a leaked email showing the Department of Labour’s Immigration NZ officials passed information to the Overseas Investment Office about FBI interest in Dotcom shortly before his application to buy a mansion was rejected.

    The email said: “Immigration NZ did not disclose whether or not the person who made the claim was from the FBI or whether or not that person had first-hand knowledge of the alleged FBI interest.”

    The information was passed from the OIO to then-Justice Minister Simon Power who blocked Dotcom’s application to purchase his mansion in Coatesville. He did so within days of Land Minister Maurice Williamson reversing an approval to buy the property. They were told there was the “possibility” the FBI “may be interested in investigating Mr Dotcom because of his ownership” of file-sharing companies.

    The Herald attempted to find out the basis on which the Department of Labour shared information with the OIO. The department was also asked how it learned of FBI interest in Dotcom before his arrest this year.

    The Department of Labour said it made decisions case by case under the Privacy Act and Overseas Investment Act. It said it had learned Dotcom was of interest to the FBI because he owned Megaupload. It refused to supply any further information.

    The email trail, released by the department under the Official Information Act, showed its media team “ignored” calls and deliberately delayed responding.

    Documents returned by the department revealed it had consulted “the PM’s office” on the issue.

    External communications manager Mark Piercey, a former journalist of 27 years experience, wrote he was “still waiting on OK from 9th floor” before sending a response. About an hour later he wrote the department’s acting chief executive Nigel Bickle had approved the response and “told PM’s office”.

    Mr Bickle said Mr Piercey’s comments in his emails at the time were “inaccurate”. He said the communications manager had mistaken the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, rather than the “PM’s office”.

    He said the information had been passed on as part of the “no surprises policy” and was appropriate in issues of “significant public interest”.

    Labour justice spokesman Charles Chauvel said the emails showed a level of “concern” at the highest levels of government which extended beyond an extradition request. He said the “no surprises policy” applied to informing ministers in charge of departments, not the PM’s office or Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.


    Two senior public servants have been reprimanded after calling a journalist they didn’t want to deal with “evil”.

    The comments came in a release of information showing staff had “ignored five calls” from Herald journalist David Fisher on an issue relating to Kim Dotcom.

    The unnamed staff member used the subject line: “Evil jou(r)no”.

    Then-communications manager Anna Thomson emailed a colleague, calling Mr Fisher a “crazy man”.

    The staff avoided speaking to the journalist, eventually emailing to say no further information would be forthcoming.

    Department of Labour acting chief executive Nigel Bickle apologised, saying media staff had failed to meet standards of “integrity, respect and excellence”.

    He stood by the department’s decision not to release information which had been passed in confidence to the government by an unnamed foreign power.

    His response came a month after staff refused to offer any reason for dodging the question.

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