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Modern-day slavery exposed in NZ waters

11 Dec | 2011

Labour abuses on foreign-chartered fishing vessels contracted to New Zealand companies.

University of Auckland researchers revealed the first documented cases of human trafficking in New Zealand at a recent trafficking conference in Wellington.

Earlier this year, Dr Christina Stringer and Glenn Simmons’s paper Not in New Zealand’s Waters, Surely? documented labour abuses, and in some cases disturbing human rights breaches, on foreign-chartered fishing vessels contracted to New Zealand companies and operating in the exclusive economic zone.

The researchers’ latest work indicates many of the 2000 foreign men working in New Zealand waters are modern day slaves under the UN definition of trafficking, and according to the UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) and European Commission Operational Indicators of Trafficking in Human Beings.

The findings are based on research that includes interviews with Indonesian crew members from a number of foreign charter fishing vessels, and the examination of crew members’ employment contracts, wage calculation sheets, pay slips, bank statements and other documents.

The research shows that although crew voluntarily enter into contractual agreements to work on foreign chartered vessels contracted to New Zealand companies, they are then subject to exploitative working conditions – some forced to work shifts of more than 50 hours, and paid as little as NZ$6700 a year. There are examples of crew having their passports and other documents confiscated and the use of debt bonding to keep crew members compliant is a common tactic.

Maltreatment on board, including verbal, physical and occasionally sexual abuse, and inhumane punishments, insanitary living conditions, food rationing and substandard food and water quality have already been documented by the team.

The material we’ve collected on each crew member ticks most, if not all the ILO-EC trafficking indicators, Mr Simmons says.

“So the work confirms that New Zealand is not immune to trafficking in people; it is here and it has been present for a long time,” he says.

“As a country, we have averted our eyes from the plight of an invisible and highly vulnerable workforce for a long time, but now we have no excuses not to address what is a grave humanitarian issue.”

The presentation to The Pacific Trafficking in Persons Forum 2011 was a preview of some of the research results. The full study will be released in the first half of next year.

The Pacific Trafficking in Persons Forum 2011 was organised by The Salvation Army and co-hosted with the Hagar Trust and ECPAT.