Slavery conviction - New Zealand

In the middle of Covid-19 madness, a really important slavery and human trafficking conviction took place. It's important we take note of it, because there are far more prosecutions initiated than there are convictions in New Zealand. 

This case involved a Samoan national, Joseph Auga Matamata, known as Viliamu Samu. He was found guilty on 23 of 24 charges of dealing in slaves and human trafficking involving 13 victims. The victims were brought to Napier to work in New Zealand's horticulture industry.

Matamata used deception to lure victims to New Zealand under the promise they would obtain paid work or schooling. When they arrived, "they worked long hours for no pay, had to comply with strict rules and were often beaten or threatened with physical abuse if they didn't complete their chores to Matamata's liking."  Matamata kept the majority of income victims made for themselves and treated victims as property. 

It is often at the recruitment stage of employment that the offence of trafficking is initiated. Horticultural companies rely on predominantly Pacific labour to harvest their goods for export. It is imperative that New Zealand companies have strong processes in place regarding recruitment and are particularly mindful of the risks that can take place when third party contractors are involved in recruiting workers. 

Most Pacific workers are brought to New Zealand under the government's Recognised Seasonal Workers Scheme. There are strong checks and balances that take place in this recruitment, but no system is perfect. In Matamata's case, industry experts commented that "the risk of exploitation of workers was higher if they were outside the terms of the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme than if they were part of it."

New Zealand's horticultural industry is worth approximately $10 billion to the New Zealand economy.  All business owners have a duty of care to the rights of people working for them. At the very least, all New Zealand horticultural companies should have modern slavery risk management processes in place to identity risk to workers and ensure no slavery or trafficking can take place in its supply chain. 

Articles referenced in this post: 

Newshub: Extraordinary growth: New Report shows booming horticulture sector.

New Zealand Herald: Expert evidence in seasonal work slavery trial

Napier court: Samoan Chief guilty of slavery and trafficking