They were told they would leave Samoa – a small island nation in the South Pacific – their larger neighbor – a country where they live about 25 times. Once there, they would work and send money home to their loved ones.
Many worked long hours of fruit from the gardens but did not receive the money earned. Instead, it was given to a man who lured them directly or indirectly to New Zealand: the chief person of Samoan, named Joseph Auga Matamata.
On Monday, Matamata was sentenced to 11 years in prison for 10 traffickers and 13 trafficked slaves – the first case in New Zealand where a person was convicted of both trafficking and slavery at the same time.
He was also ordered to pay 183,000 New Zealand dollars ($ 122,000) in compensation to his 13 victims to partially compensate the 300,000 New Zealand dollars ($ 200,000) his family acquired as a result of the crimes. Matamata maintained her innocence.
But while Matamata’s sentence ends more than two decades of crime, experts say his case is just the tip of the iceberg.
They say that while human trafficking and slavery are rare in New Zealand, cases are more prevalent than these beliefs suggest. And they warn that more people could become vulnerable to human trafficking in the world after a pandemic.
Position of trust
As mate – or chief – Matamata had a position of government. In Samoan culture, you see a person with the title of family leader that requires a lot of respect.
However, as Judge Helen Cull convicted, Matamata abused that trust.
Since 1994 Matamata began inviting family members or his own Samoan villagers to come to New Zealand to work and live on his property in Hastings, a town on the north island of New Zealand with many gardens and wineries. All were poorly educated, most did not speak English, and some could not read.
The first victims at the time were a 17 and 15 year old brother and sister. The brother was hoping to make money to send home to his family, and the sister was hoping to finish her studies in New Zealand.
Instead, the brother worked in the gardens for long days, and the sister cooked, cleaned, and helped care for the children — none of whom were paid for the work. Matamata restricted their movements and physically harassed them.
The court ruled that another 11 victims – between the ages of 12 and 53 when they arrived in New Zealand – had similar experiences.
In most cases, Matamata has organized three-month visitor visas for victims, rather than employment visas, which they will need to work legally.
The victims were told not to leave the property without permission and not to communicate with their families in Samoa unless Matamata allowed. Every week during church services, they did not have to communicate with passers-by or communicate with other people. If they did not comply, Matamata “attacked them and created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation,” Justice Cull said.
Matamata made all the contracts, except for her 15-year-old sister, to horticultural operators, but then interfered with the money she earned for herself. One was only given 10 New Zealand dollars ($ 7) a week. Another received $ 850 ($ 565) for more than 17 months of work.
Eventually, many of the victims were deported to Samoa due to a lack of a correct visa.
When they returned home, many felt ashamed because they had “nothing to show that they had spent time and were punished for illegal immigration status,” Justice Cullas said in his statement, adding that the government of Matamata was even more embarrassed. status.
“They cannot return to New Zealand to work and many believe that this stigma and history will limit their opportunities to work for the rest of their lives,” she said, noting that in many cases coming to New Zealand had made their families worse. ‘ financial situation. “Some victims hope for their future, but many still feel great guilt and pain over what happened to them (Matamata).”
“His breaches of trust, physical violence and blatant disrespect for the well-being of the people he wanted to help were unconscious and must be condemned,” Vaughan said.
New Zealand and human trafficking
Trafficking in human beings and slavery have long been considered non-existent in New Zealand, says Natalia Szablewska, a senior lecturer at the Auckland University School of Technology who is an expert on human trafficking.
As in all countries, it is difficult to collect accurate statistics due to the hidden nature of the crime.
According to the New Zealand Immigration Service, the Matamata case was only bought to the authorities in 2017, and court documents say most victims are too ashamed to talk about their experiences even after returning to Samoa.
Detective inspector Mike Foster said the case, which required help from the Samoan authorities, was one of New Zealand’s most complex immigration and police investigations.
But while we don’t know the true scale, research shows that exploitation is happening.
Most of the 64 migrant workers surveyed in the study were underpaid in at least one of their workplaces, and some wages were only $ 3 ($ 2) per hour, well below the New Zealand minimum wage.
So if there are more cases, why don’t more people choose?
One reason, according to Rebekah Armstrong, director of New Zealand-based business and human rights consultants, is that victims often fear losing their visa status and possibly their way to residency after filing a complaint. In New Zealand, immigration and labor are handled by the same ministry – and Armstrong believes this could lead some victims to report abuse.
What should New Zealand do
As a result of the coronavirus, millions of people around the world are losing their jobs, experts warn that this could make human trafficking more vulnerable, including in New Zealand.
“When they are desperate, (people) will turn to the so-called opportunities where you are asked to do, or the way you are told to do is quite dishonest and does not meet labor standards,” said Szablewska. “Those who have been vulnerable will become even more vulnerable.”
Gary Jones, head of trade policy and strategy at the New Zealand Apple and Pears Industry Group, said 350,000 migrants working in New Zealand could become vulnerable to exploitation if their jobs dry up.
However, Szablewska wants New Zealand to follow in the footsteps of other countries, such as Australia, by introducing the Modern Slavery Act, which requires companies to conduct due diligence in their supply chain. The rules also apply to New Zealand companies operating in Australia with a turnover above a certain threshold.
Szablewska believes a modern slavery law would help raise awareness of the problem in New Zealand and possibly encourage more victims to report it.
“I don’t think most companies want to rely on forced labor,” she said.
Jones believes commercial pressure can be more effective than legal changes.
New Zealand apples and pears, for example, have adopted an international system in which companies have to prove that they treat employees well in order to get their products in overseas supermarkets. If they do not meet the criteria, their products will not be stored.
The change, along with other changes such as the visa system introduced more than a decade ago, which gives more protection to Pacific Islanders working in the horticultural industry, makes it harder to insult people like Matamata, Jones said. But it could still happen, he said.
“If you want to hide things, you can really hide them,” he said.