Three years ago the Human Trafficking Research Coalition commissioned the University of Auckland to study the level of worker exploitation in New Zealand. The report, which has just been made public, exposed the prevalence of exploitation, forced labour, slavery and human trafficking in New Zealand.
The research was conducted by the University of Auckland’s Dr Christina Stringer, who says it’s not just a “serious human rights issue” but is also putting our country’s international reputation at risk. You can listen to her talk about the report here and you can read the report “Worker Exploitation in New Zealand: A Troubling Landscape” here.
The project comprised two stages. The first was a desk review of secondary sources to understand what was known (2005 to 2015) about worker exploitation in New Zealand. The second stage involved 105 semi-structured interviews with workers – predominantly temporary migrant workers – from a range of industries.
After interviewing 105 people over two years, many of them migrants on temporary work visas, the researchers found some were being forced to work up to 90-hour weeks and were severely underpaid. “This research uncovers widespread abuse that’s normally hidden,” Dr Stringer says. “These workers’ contribution to our economy must be valued, and the vulnerable among them must be properly protected.” source
The report follows on from the 2014 Global Slavery Index which highlighted that NZ had a growing issue of human exploitation and slavery. When taken in conjunction with the US State Deptartment’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2014, NZ was identified as both a source and a destination country in the slavery network.
However, the NZ government is not among the governments taking action to end modern slavery. And when you find out the major industries that are abusing workers you’ll understand why.
While New Zealand is but a speck on the map compared to modern slave giants such as Haiti, India, Pakistan and the Sudan, its mere existence in our back yard should appall every kiwi.
Noticeably, New Zealand is also absent from the index’s list of governments that are taking the most action to end modern slavery. Most notable is that many of these countries have similarly low rates of slavery as we do, but have aggressively acted anyway. These countries include; the Netherlands, the United States, Ireland, Georgia and our next door neighbour Australia. source
It appears the Christchurch reconstruction work may have had a part to play in increasing worker exploitation in New Zealand. Rebulding was estimated to require 30,000-35,000 workers over a 5-10 year period and half of them would be migrants. The opportunities for exploitation were rife:
The promise of employment in Christchurch and relatively high wages of between $18 to $25 an hour are seen by many to be life changing and subsequently many entered into debt bondage in order to obtain employment. The reality for some is that they end up being exploited by recruitment agents and/or their employers in New Zealand.
Accounts have emerged of Filipino workers paying exorbitant recruitment fees (between $3,000 to $15,000 each) to immigration agencies in the Philippines to obtain work in Christchurch. source
The government got to hear about the report last week. At the time it was tied up with John Key’s resignation and the Commerce Commission’s bombshell announcement that it was prosecuting three companies for selling substandard seismic steel mesh, used extensively around the country for earthquake strengthening work.
Peter Mihaere, chief executive of Stand Against Slavery and spokesman for the coalition, said releasing the report to Government officials last week was a little bit like “going into the lion’s den and telling the lion it’s not good.”
“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” Mihaere said.
Their research shows that migrant workers are unpaid, denied basic human decencies. and are threatened and abused by Kiwi bosses. NZHerald
The exploitation outlined by the migrant workers ranged from shady employment practices to more serious allegations, including physical and sexual abuse.
The report found some workers had been charged recruitment fees of up to $20,000 and then significantly underpaid upon arrival into New Zealand. One interviewee said he worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week for six months, earning just $5 an hour.
Many workers claimed they’d been subjected to degrading language and bullying by Kiwi bosses, supervisors or fellow workers. They reported being told they were “dumb”, being sworn at and being refused bathroom breaks.
One interviewee said he was threatened by a contractor who said if he “stand against him.. Nobody’s gonna find your dead body in New Zealand.”…
The report’s release is timely; coming a day before Faroz Ali, the first person convicted of human trafficking in New Zealand, faces sentencing in the Auckland High Court. NZHerald
The report raises serious human rights concerns, similar to those engendered by the sweat shops of other developing countries
Some of the workers claimed they had tried to seek help from New Zealand authorities, but been turned down because they didn’t have legitimate work contracts. One interviewee claimed they approached Inland Revenue and Immigration Services “to complain about these guys… but no one is doing anything.”
Another said: “No one wants to listen to me.”
Some workers in cosmetic services and providing therapeutic massages were found to have been expected to provide sexual services – something which is illegal for non-citizens and non-residents. source
But you may be surprised at the major industries that practice modern day slavery and human trafficking in New Zealand – they’re the ones that earn billions for the country and prop-up its economy.
Did you know when you buy New Zealand dairy, fresh produce, stay in holiday accommodation, build a house, or register for international education, you could be helping to support slavery in New Zealand?
The report found six key industries vulnerable to exploitation
Since the Christchurch earthquake rebuild ramped up, accounts of worker exploitation have been rife in the construction industry. Filipino workers have been exploited with exorbitant fees and forced to live in overcrowded, substandard accommodation.
New Zealand’s dairy industry is increasingly dependent on migrant workers. Accounts of worker exploitation have included poor treatment, fees of up to $12,000 to obtain work visas and even starving workers being forced to forage through maize for food.
Widespread labour and human rights abuses have been exposed in New Zealand’s foreign charter vessel sector. Allegations include physical, mental and sexual abuse, passports being confiscated, debt bondage and excessively long work hours.
Horticulture and Viticulture:
Growers and producers in New Zealand’s seasonal horticulture and viticulture sector are under constant pressure to reduce prices and this can lead to worker exploitation. New Zealand’s first conviction of human trafficking came from workers exploited on kiwifruit orchards.
New Zealand’s hospitality industry is a significant employer of temporary migrant workers. Disturbing accounts of exploitation within this industry include forced labour, debt bondage and workers being paid as little as $4 an hour.
The international student industry is New Zealand’s fourth largest export earner and has recently been growing rapidly. The Herald, and other media, have highlighted the exploitation of international students, including accounts of fraudulent agents and exploitative employers.
There have been accounts of migrant workers being enticed to New Zealand with promises of work in restaurants or beauty parlours and then forced into the sex trade upon arrival. In one case a young woman was sold to an undercover policeman for $3000.
“The industries and sectors mentioned [in the report] contribute significantly to the New Zealand economy – some might say they are its lifeblood – so findings of migrant worker exploitation in these areas puts New Zealand’s international reputation at risk”
Summary of Recommendations
The Coalition produced a number of recommendations, predominantly but not exclusively, aimed at the New Zealand Government.
- The government set up a human trafficking office and actively coordinate a response to human trafficking and labour exploitation in both the government and civil society sectors.
- Continue with Government-funded research into vulnerable groups including a longitudinal study spanning 2013-2030.
- Monitor industry sectors where labour exploitation is taking place and publish results.
- A private sector fund to top up government funding for research, policy and law formation, education and frontline training, victim identification and protection facilities.
- Adapt MOUs with other relevant countries to include a standard worker-recruitment agency contract, a standard employment contract, a limit on recruitment fees, ensuring the worker has at least one day off per week and that no passports are confiscated.
- A mandatory in-country induction programme for migrant workers explaining workers rights and avenues for help here in NZ.
- Establish a “red flag” system for trafficking and labour exploitation victims measured against the International Labour Organisation trafficking indicators.
- Update the 2009 New Zealand Plan of Action to Prevent People Trafficking as a matter of urgency.
- Greater training for frontline staff to assist with identifying victims.
- Review the two recent trials and current law to ascertain if it allows for effective prosecution of human trafficking.
- The Government to consider bringing in legislation similar to the UK Modern Slavery Act, which would make it unlawful for companies with forced labour in their supply chain to operate in New Zealand. source
Want to send a message to the government of New Zealand that you’d like them to stop migrant exploitation? Simple, don’t buy New Zealand produce, or stay there as a tourist.
Don’t want to become a victim? Simple, migrate somewhere else, do not study in New Zealand, do not go there to work in the construction or farming industries.
You may also be interested in
600 slaves and counting on New Zealand soil – tip of the iceberg uncovered. November 2014
Stand Against Slavery Facebook page
Stand Against Slavery website