Immigration New Zealand have recently taken a prosecution against two New Zealand citizens who are alleged to have exploited a number of migrants who had entered the country on temporary work visas.

The accused couple face a total of 42 charges relating to the alleged trafficking of five workers.

The charges stem from allegations by the five former employees that they were underpaid and mistreated.

The very fact that his prosecution is proceeding – without name suppression – is a great step forward.

Historically, New Zealand officials have been extremely reluctant to label criminal behaviour as human trafficking, preferring to label it as an “employment issue”. While that might be true in a broad sense, that approach undermines the rule of law, and prevents genuine victims of trafficking from obtaining justice.

A classic example is the case of the Indonesian fishermen who had clearly been trafficked on Korean boats in New Zealand waters. Litigation surrounding this has been taken to the Supreme Court, and a Ministerial Inquiry led to changes in legislation, but to date the government has been firm in its stance that these men were just unfortunate enough to have bad jobs.

This wilful blindness from our government is obviously unacceptable. Migrant workers in New Zealand on temporary visas are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. They work in New Zealand for short periods of time, often earning only the minimum wage, and have to work with the knowledge that their employer is in a position of great power over them.

It’s a basic principle that everyone who lives in New Zealand – for whatever period of time – is subject to New Zealand law. That means that New Zealand citizens who commit crimes like human trafficking must be subject to prosecution and punishment. It also means that people like the five alleged victims in this case must have the harm that they have suffered recognised.


Thomas Harré

Barrister, LawAid International