Tauranga’s Sean Hatwell’s experience as a detective fighting organised crime in New Zealand took him to the streets and red-light districts of Thailand, working with Tearfund’s partner to disrupt trafficking rings peddling misery for victims of human trafficking.  

Tauranga’s Sean Hatwell has been working to help disrupt the criminal networks responsible for peddling the misery of thousands of men women and children being trafficked into the sex industry in Thailand. 

On Thursday, September 30, Hatwell will be a guest speaker at Tearfund NZ’s Trafficking Unlocked charity event in Tauranga, helping to raise awareness of human trafficking.   

The former detective in the National Organised Crime Group (NOCG) of the New Zealand Police headed up the Organised Crime Team for Tearfund’s partner LIFT International in Thailand—a Kiwi organisation dedicated to combating human trafficking and exploitation.  

Hatwell grew up in Tauranga and attended Tauranga Boys’ College before going to university in Auckland to study psychology and sociology. At the age of 23, he decided to join the New Zealand Police.  

Hatwell grew his experience in the NOCG, investigating high-end organised crimes such as drug trafficking and money laundering. When a former colleague and friend returned to New Zealand after working for LIFT, it sparked his interest in the issue of human trafficking, and this became the launching pad for his move to Thailand. 

He says he wanted to use his skills for the greater good. “I didn’t know much about human trafficking at the time, but I knew how to investigate and about organised crime and its structures and tiers. It turns out, human trafficking is pretty much the same.”  

women-looking-at-computers.jpg
LIFT workers documenting evidence from a human trafficking case.

However, what struck Hatwell about human trafficking was the human cost. “Unlike drugs, it’s people who are being bought and sold who have feelings, hopes and dreams and families. That’s the human impact.” 

One of the biggest things that Hatwell likes about LIFT’s approach is that the organisation wants to address the structure of organised crime rather than just target the “lowest hanging fruit” such as rescuing people from traffickers. The organised crime team work undercover and using a wide range of investigative tools to gather enough evidence to bring to the police. LIFT also offers training to police to help them in human trafficking investigations. Hatwell says that the Thai police were wary of the organisation, but they now have a good and trusted relationship. At first, we would give them the evidence we had gathered to investigate cases, but now the police often approach us to assist with investigations on their behalf. 
 

workers-in-PPE.jpgLIFT workers gathering evidence from electronic devices. 

One of the highlights of Hatwell’s time in Thailand was helping to dismantle a criminal ring that was trafficking women from Africa. Victims were brought to Thailand after their traffickers fraudulently obtained visas on their behalf. 

Hatwell says they were deceived into thinking they were arriving in the country for jobs in hair salons and the like, but in reality, they were being trafficked for sex work. In the process of coming to Thailand, they incurred a big debt for their travel and accommodation that they couldn’t repay. They were forced into the sex industry because there was no other way to pay their debt.  

“You could go to some streets in Bangkok and see upwards of a hundred African women plying for trade, but they would fall deeper into debt because they were incurring more costs and couldn’t earn enough. When Sean’s team approached the police, they said they were reluctant to do anything about it because the women weren’t locked up, they were free to move about. This was because the police didn’t commonly recognise debt bondage as a method of trafficking, he says. “But we kept beating on the door and we found a cop who wanted to take it on. We felt like a dog chasing a car, but we actually caught it.” As a consequence of evidence gathered by LIFT in the investigation, more stringent measures were implemented by the Thai government, which stopped the trafficking syndicates from being able to readily obtain the visas which facilitated the trafficking. They also managed to prosecute some of the traffickers involved in the case.  

“Within three months, all the African women were gone.”  

One of the most challenging things for Hatwell was the online sexual exploitation of children. He says as a father, it is distressing to have to look through files and footage of children being exploited. “You can’t un-see it.” 

Hatwell and his family are now back in Tauranga and he is working for an organisation undertaking ethical labour investigations in New Zealand industry supply chains. Hatwell says that Kiwis are not very aware of trafficking in New Zealand. They tend to believe that it doesn’t happen here, but it does. New Zealand was just downgraded in this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) for failing to meet the minimum standards to prevent trafficking for not prosecuting labour trafficking. 

“It’s definitely happening here, I have seen it, especially in industries that employ subcontractors. Hatwell believes a Modern Slavery Act would be one good piece of legislation that would reduce labour trafficking.  

“People in many industries shift the responsibility of labour exploitation onto those who hire the labourers—it’s their problem, they are the ones hiring the staff. But with a Modern Slavery Act, large companies could be more easily prosecuted for being negligent toward what is happening in their supply chains, and could no longer simply lay the blame on unscrupulous third party contractors. Law changes like this can help to reduce labour trafficking.”    

Sean will be a guest speaker at Tearfund’s Trafficking Unlocked charity dinner in Tauranga. Click here for event details.   

 

Event Details 

What: Tearfund’s Trafficking Unlocked charity dinner. 

When: Thursday, September 30 at Trinity Wharf, 51 Dive Crescent, Tauranga. Doors open at 6.30 pm.  

Tickets are available at https://events.humanitix.com/tu-tauranga.  

 

 


Related posts

Haiti earthquake: to weep and to hope

Haiti earthquake: to weep and to hope

Wednesday, 08 September 2021 — Compassion International

As Haiti faces another devastating earthquake, Willow Welter from Compassion says, while it is time to weep with Haitians now, there is hope to rejoice as she reflects on what has been achieved by supporters since the last big earthquake occurred in 2010, which killed more than 200,000 people. With support, these communities will once again rise from the rubble and be able to rejoice again.
 

Read more

Four years on, we will not forget the Rohingya people

Four years on, we will not forget the Rohingya people

Wednesday, 25 August 2021 — Andrew Robinson

Today, August 25, marks four years since extreme violence and human rights atrocities erupted against the Rohingya people, forcing thousands to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh. The Rohingya Refugee Crisis continues to this day, with over 880,000 refugees still living in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. We remember the Rohingya people today, and invite you to pray with us as you read our reflections on this crisis in this blog.
 

Read more

Kids around the world: My favourite foods

Kids around the world: My favourite foods

Friday, 20 August 2021 — Compassion International

We thought we’d ask some children who attend Compassion child development centres what their favourite foods to eat were. Here’s what they had to share.
 

Read more

A year on from the Beirut explosion, the effects are still being felt

A year on from the Beirut explosion, the effects are still being felt

Wednesday, 04 August 2021 — Tearfund New Zealand

Today marks one year since the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port in Lebanon killed more than 180 people. As one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, it left hundreds injured and hundreds of thousands of people homeless and unemployed. Your support enabled our local partner MERATH, a Christian NGO in Lebanon, to help thousands of vulnerable individuals and families. Here’s what we were able to do with your donation.
 

Read more

My three top tips to becoming an ethical fashion consumer

My three top tips to becoming an ethical fashion consumer

Monday, 02 August 2021 — Juliette Epstein

When it comes to ethical fashion, there’s always a bigger picture. Here are three things I have learnt since being an ethical fashion intern at Tearfund. I hope these tips will help you think about how and what you're consuming and that my journey will help yours!
 

Read more

New Zealand fails to fully meet minimum standards to eliminate trafficking

New Zealand fails to fully meet minimum standards to eliminate trafficking

Monday, 26 July 2021 — Morgan Theakston

On July 30, it is World Trafficking in Persons Day and we're shedding light on why the recent US TIP Report has downgraded New Zealand to Tier 2. When it comes to government efforts to prosecute and prevent human trafficking, New Zealand is falling behind the UK, US, Australia, France and many other countries.
 

Read more

Show more