New Zealand’s Trafficking Struggle: Falling Short of International Standards Once More

1521 0
Maya Duckworth
/ Categories: Modern Slavery


Almost 50 million people are trapped in modern-day slavery globally, including in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

The Trafficking in Persons Report 2023 (TIP Report) was released this morning. Again, it found “the Government of New Zealand does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”. We’re not surprised.

For a third year in a row, New Zealand has found itself on the Tier 2 list.

The TIP Report ranks governments around the world into four tiers based on their effort to recognise and eliminate human trafficking. It assesses whether governments are meeting the minimum international standards for the protection of survivors, the prosecution of offenders, and the prevention of trafficking.

For 16 years, New Zealand consistently ranked in Tier 1 alongside a several of other countries, including Australia, the UK and the USA. But in 2021, our country’s rank was downgraded to Tier 2, meaning the New Zealand Government no longer meets these minimum standards.

With the report’s release this morning, we’re disappointed the government has not done enough again to combat the devastating consequences of human trafficking.


Human trafficking alive and well in New Zealand

Human trafficking is when a person exploits another adult or a child, compelling them to engage in labour or commercial sex, and then profits at their expense. While many associate human trafficking with the movement of persons across state borders, a victim does not need to be transported from one location to another to fall under this term.

Unfortunately, trafficking takes place all over the world—including New Zealand. We’ve seen recent stories emerging in our media of exploitation and sex trafficking. Forced labour has been documented in our agricultural, dairy, construction, viticulture and hospitality industries.

The government has taken positive steps forward over the last year. They’ve initiated more trafficking investigations, launched a new public resource outlining signs of trafficking and how to report potential offences and opened a public consultation on a Modern Slavery Bill.

These are good steps in the right direction, but there are key gaps in the government’s approach. These include:


Failure to identify victims appropriately

Despite investigating an increased number of cases and the noted reality of trafficking in New Zealand, the government did not formally identify any individuals as a victim of trafficking for the third consecutive year and has never identified an adult as a victim of sex trafficking. Not treating cases appropriately fails to hold traffickers accountable,, protect victims and ultimately increase awareness of trafficking as a crime.


Failure to amend the definition of child sex trafficking in the Crimes Act 1961

Our anti-trafficking legislation is inconsistent with international law when it comes to child sex trafficking. International law recognises all commercial sex acts performed by a person younger than 18 as a crime, regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion is involved. However, our legislation requires a demonstration of deception or coercion for prosecution. This legislation needs to be urgently remedied to further protect tamariki in New Zealand.


Modern Slavery legislation stalled

New Zealand continues to lag behind other countries when it comes to Modern Slavery legislation, particularly legislation that requires companies to know the workers in their supply chains here and internationally and how they’re treated. Unfortunately, efforts to introduce a Modern Slavery Bill have stalled since the end of last year. A draft bill has not been presented to parliament, despite continued statements from the government saying this legislation remains a priority.


Things need to change—now

New Zealand’s continued ranking in Tier 2 is a warning sign that our government needs to do significantly more to protect survivors, prosecute offenders, and prevent trafficking.

We call on the government to do more to counter human trafficking in New Zealand, particularly in the areas of modern slavery in supply chains and child sex trafficking. Tearfund is working behind the scenes to advocate for two specific legislative changes. The first is for Modern Slavery legislation—you can read more about that here. The second is the amendment to the Crimes Act 1961, which you can read more about here.


How can you support this work?

- We’ve got some plans in action, so keep an eye on our social media for ways you can support this work.

- In the meantime, write a letter to your local MP and demand that the government increases efforts to eliminate human trafficking in New Zealand. Request that they amend section 98D of The Crimes Act of 1961 so that it no longer requires deception or coercion to constitute a child trafficking case.




Contact author
Other posts by Maya Duckworth

Maya Duckworth

Contact author