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New Zealand (Tier 2)

The Government of New Zealand does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore New Zealand remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included initiating more trafficking investigations; approving a new task force within Immigration New Zealand designed to investigate trafficking investigations and improve interagency coordination; launching a new public resource outlining the trafficking definition, signs, and steps to report potential trafficking offenses; and soliciting feedback from NGOs, private sector companies, and civil society to inform an improved legislative response to trafficking.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  The government did not report any trafficking prosecutions or convictions for the second consecutive year; however, it prosecuted two cases with trafficking indicators under migrant exploitation laws, pending further investigations for potential trafficking elements.  Despite investigating an increased number of cases with trafficking indicators, the government did not identify any certified trafficking victims for the third consecutive year.  Officials, including police and customs officials, did not have written SOPs for victim identification or referrals to care, and the government did not refer any victims to services.  The government has never identified a certified adult victim of sex trafficking.  

  • Increase efforts to identify victims through proactive screening of vulnerable populations, including by drafting and finalizing appropriate victim identification guidelines for government officials. 
  • Increase efforts to proactively investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms. 
  • Establish a national referral mechanism to ensure victims – including New Zealand citizens – are appropriately identified as trafficking victims and referred to services, and track the number of victims identified by authorities. 
  • Amend the trafficking statute to explicitly define the sex trafficking of children as not requiring the use of deception or coercion. 
  • Take steps to improve potential victims’ access to services and ensure government-funded services are suitable for trafficking victims. 
  • Fully operationalize the anti-trafficking unit in Immigration New Zealand (INZ) to improve interagency coordination and case response during trafficking investigations and prosecutions, victim identification, appropriate victim referrals to services, and trafficking data management. 
  • Distribute materials to raise public awareness of all forms of human trafficking. 
  • Increase training for all front-line workers, including law enforcement, customs officials, health care workers, and immigration officials, on trafficking indicators and appropriate referrals for victims. 
  • Remove the requirement for the Attorney General to approve charges under section 98D before authorities can initiate court proceedings. 
  • Improve the content and distribution of materials explaining migrant workers’ rights and mechanisms for reporting exploitation. 
  • Increase coordination with NGOs, social service providers, and other civil society stakeholders on anti-trafficking efforts, including victim identification and assistance. 
  • Provide anti-trafficking training to diplomatic personnel.

The government maintained inadequate anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts.  The Crimes Act of 1961, as amended in 2015, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking.  Section 98D (trafficking in persons) criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding 500,000 New Zealand dollars (NZD) ($317,460), or both; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to the forms of sex trafficking covered under the provision, commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.  Inconsistent with international law, section 98D required a demonstration of deception or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking.  However, section 98AA criminalized all forms of child sex trafficking under its “dealing in persons” provision and prescribed penalties of up 14 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.  The government sometimes utilized the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) to prosecute child sex trafficking crimes, including sections 20 and 21, which criminalized the facilitating, assisting, causing, or encouraging a child to provide commercial sex, in addition to receiving earnings from commercial sex acts provided by a child.  These sections of the PRA prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment, which were significantly lower than those available for trafficking offenses under section 98D and 98AA of the Crimes Act.  During the reporting period the government prosecuted cases involving labor trafficking indicators under section 351 of the Immigration Act, which criminalized the “exploitation of unlawful employees and temporary workers.”  The law prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 100,000 NZD ($63,490), or both; these penalties were significantly lower than those available for labor trafficking under article 98D of the Crimes Act.  

The government initiated 18 new trafficking investigations – 12 for labor trafficking, three for sex trafficking, and three for unspecified forms of trafficking – and continued five investigations– three labor trafficking and two sex trafficking – from previous reporting periods; this compared with initiating three investigations – one for sex trafficking, one for labor trafficking, and one for unspecified forms of trafficking – in the previous reporting period.  For the second consecutive year, the government did not prosecute or convict any traffickers.  The government initiated prosecutions of two migrant exploitation cases under section 351 of the Immigration Act, with ongoing investigations into trafficking indicators at the end of the reporting period.  In a separate case, the government fined one individual 1.55 million NZD ($984,130) for breaches of employment laws; the government reported the individual exploited several victims in forced labor.  Following the enactment of the trafficking law in 2015, the government has exclusively used section 98D to prosecute labor trafficking crimes and has never prosecuted a sex trafficking crime or a case of internal trafficking under section 98D.  The government required the Attorney General approve any charges under section 98D before authorities could initiate court proceedings.  

An anti-trafficking operations group, composed of immigration authorities, police, the children’s ministry, and other agencies, continued to meet monthly to increase law enforcement coordination.  The Labor Inspectorate (LI) investigated forced labor complaints but worked mainly within the civil legal system, which may have contributed to the lack of criminal prosecution of forced labor crimes as authorities did not refer cases for criminal investigations.  INZ’s serious offences unit investigated trafficking cases that involved immigration violations; however, according to some observers INZ was reluctant to pursue trafficking charges and the agency did not consistently coordinate with prosecutors before deciding to pursue charges.  In addition, LI and INZ reportedly did not consistently respond to or investigate complaints made by exploited migrants workers, and despite finalizing a strategy in early 2021 to formalize their collaboration, the agencies reportedly did not effectively coordinate to investigate potential trafficking cases.  Despite identifying labor trafficking indicators in an increased number of investigations, the government reported prosecuting such cases under other laws, citing insufficient evidence.  In March 2023, the government approved the creation of a designated trafficking investigations unit within Immigration New Zealand to oversee trafficking investigations and improve victim identification and case response, interagency coordination on trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and data tracking; the task force was not operational during the reporting period.  Some experts previously noted the lack of efforts by law enforcement to treat appropriately sex trafficking cases minimized the prevalence of the crime and resulted in weak efforts to hold traffickers accountable and protect victims.  Observers noted authorities used the Prostitution Reform Act to prosecute offenses that may have included trafficking crimes.  

INZ collaborated with the Immigration Service in Fiji on a monthly basis to share information on trafficking investigations and improve cross-border coordination.  NZP continued to require anti-trafficking training for all detectives and included a human trafficking and migrant smuggling chapter in its police manual.  The government trained labor, customs, child protections, and immigration agencies on trauma-informed approaches; it also trained banks and education facilities on financial indicators of trafficking and trafficking awareness.  The government did not report training judiciary officials, and one observer previously reported the government did not adequately train front-line officials on identifying victims and trafficking indicators.  The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes.

The government maintained insufficient victim identification and protection efforts.  It reported identifying 251 potential trafficking victims during investigations in 2022, including 45 potential victims of sex trafficking, 191 potential victims of labor trafficking, and 15 potential victims of unspecified forms of trafficking, compared with 78 potential trafficking victims of unspecified exploitation in the previous reporting period.  However, for the third consecutive year, the government did not identify any certified trafficking victims.  The government delivered training that included guidance on victim identification to some officials, but government agencies – including police and customs agents – did not have formal written procedures for proactive victim identification.  The government lacked a system to formally recognize all trafficking victims, including victims from New Zealand.  The government had a process to formally certify a foreign national as a trafficking victim, enabling their access to a specific visa category for trafficking victims and basic services such as health care.  Victim certification processes and subsequent service provision, including visas, remained unclear to potential victims and victim protections workers, therefore preventing victims from accessing appropriate care and resources.  One NGO reported difficulties in obtaining the visa for victims of trafficking; the government’s criteria for victim certification was not publicly available, and victims did not know if or how to appeal a decision.  While it did not require New Zealand victims to be certified to access general victims of crime support services, a lack of certification prevented foreign trafficking victims from obtaining access to social service benefits, healthcare, and resources; in addition to other requirements, visas for victims of trafficking also required victim certification by the government.  The government did not have specialized services for trafficking victims.  The absence of a system to certify all trafficking victims and track subsequent data may have impeded the government’s ability to identify trafficking trends and develop effective responses.  Despite evidence traffickers have forced adults, particularly female victims of family violence, into commercial sex in New Zealand, the government has never formally identified an adult New Zealander as a sex trafficking victim.  NGOs reported migrants engaged in commercial sex in New Zealand were highly vulnerable to exploitation, yet the government has also never certified a foreign victim of sex trafficking.  NZP had legal limitations on its ability to proactively screen for sex trafficking victims, including among New Zealand citizens engaged in legal commercial sex, which was primarily regulated by the Ministry of Health (MOH).  Due to regulations prohibiting police from inspecting legal brothels without a complaint, police relied on MOH officials and an organization working closely with individuals in commercial sex to report potential criminal violations; however, the government did not provide training to the organization’s or MOH’s staff on definitions or indicators of sex trafficking, or procedures for the referral of trafficking victims to services.  

The government did not provide any specialized services for trafficking victims, nor did it refer any victims to care during the reporting period.  The government did not allocate funding specifically to assist trafficking victims or provide services designed for trafficking victims, including shelter; and it lacked a framework for providing services to domestic victims of trafficking.  However, certified trafficking victims were eligible to receive government-funded services available for all serious crime victims provided through arrangements with local community groups.  The government provided temporary housing, medical services, employment assistance, and other social services, as well as emergency grants in cases involving debt-based coercion; but it did not report any potential or certified victims receiving these services during the reporting period.  MOH did not disaggregate data between trafficking victims and other populations who accessed healthcare services.  Observers reported the government lacked adequate services for child sex trafficking victims, did not provide easily accessible services for victims of both labor and sex trafficking, and did not provide clear guidance to some NGO service providers seeking government assistance.  The government continued to lack a formal, standardized referral mechanism and referred potential victims to care on a case-by-case basis.  The government did not refer to care any potential or certified victims during the current reporting period.  

The government allowed for a reflection period, the length of which depended on the individual recovery needs of each victim, before deciding whether to cooperate with law enforcement; but the government did not report any potential or certified victims utilizing this process.  The government could fund travel and accommodation expenses for repatriated victims willing to return to New Zealand to participate in court proceedings, but it did not report funding such expenses during the year.  The law authorized the extension of temporary residence visas to certified foreign trafficking victims for up to 12 months, which also made them eligible for legal employment; foreign victims facing hardship or retribution in their home countries could apply for a residency visa.  INZ did not grant any residency visas or work visas to trafficking victims or their family members; this compared with 13 residency visas and five work visas for trafficking victims in the previous reporting period.  The government did not report screening foreign nationals in commercial sex for trafficking indicators before issuing deportation orders; one observer reported fear of deportation and penalization over immigration violations may have deterred foreign nationals from reporting exploitation to law enforcement.  Due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities may have deported some unidentified trafficking victimsINZ continued to include information on visas for trafficking victims and brochures in 10 languages on its website; however, inconsistent with international law, the updated page included a definition of trafficking that required the movement of a person.  The law allowed victims to receive restitution from criminal proceedings and victims could seek compensation from assets forfeited in criminal cases through civil claims.  The government did not report granting restitution to any trafficking victims in the current reporting period. 

The government increased efforts to prevent traffickingINZ chaired the government’s interagency working group on trafficking and operated a team responsible for coordinating government anti-trafficking efforts, which continued to meet monthly during the reporting period to discuss trafficking cases and victim referral and identification.  INZ and Employment New Zealand continued to hold observatory roles within an advisory group composed of government officials, NGOs, businesses, academics, and trade unions.  The government did not report sufficient efforts to raise awareness of sex trafficking.  The government continued to maintain government immigration and employment webpages and distribute printed and online materials to raise awareness of trafficking indicators and the availability of support services to migrant and domestic workers.  In March 2023, the anti-trafficking operations group publicly released materials that included trafficking definitions and indicators and provided instructions for reporting to law enforcement.  Previously, civil society reported low levels of public understanding of trafficking across New Zealand.  

The government published an annual report of its ongoing efforts to implement the “Plan of Action against Forced Labor, People Trafficking and Slavery” on its website.  INZ sought input from the Australian government and NGOs on survivor inclusion in their plan of action and conducted research to create a strategy on best practices to support survivors of trafficking.  Initiated in the previous reporting period, New Zealand’s Parliament continued to solicit civil society and other stakeholder input to inform legislative changes migrant exploitation; the government published its report in August 2022 and proposed recommendations to continue to evaluate migrant worker and migrant exploitation visas for effectiveness and accessibility.  MBIE also solicited input from civil society, NGOs, and private industry to identify gaps, prevalence of exploitation, and proposals for improvements in worker protections in supply chains legislation; the published report noted:  confusion over the lack of clarity in exploitation terminology and conflation between migrant exploitation and trafficking, support for the need to uphold Māori values, and support to create a flexible framework for businesses of varying size to perform due diligence checks on operations.  INZ held bimonthly virtual meetings with leaders of migrant communities to provide information on migrant rights, including visas, and remain informed on immigration issues.  The government distributed guides for employers recruiting migrant workers; published information on the rights of migrant workers on government websites in 13 languages; and sent automated emails with workers’ rights information at different points of the visa process to potential applicants.  MBIE continued to distribute pamphlets, in five languages, which listed who was legally permitted to engage in commercial sex and provided information on how to report exploitation; however, these materials did not specifically address trafficking.  Many of these materials on migrant workers’ rights and employment laws were unclear or distributed ineffectively, with some workers remaining unaware of their rights or how to report exploitation.  The government did not operate a trafficking specific hotline; however, workers could report complaints through MBIE’s employment rights and migrant exploitation hotlines or website, to general staff who referred cases to a triage team, who then filed reports to appropriate law enforcement entity, including police and the labor inspectorate.  However, there were reports this system was ineffective, with authorities not investigating urgent complaints in a timely manner or not referring cases to investigators, which left workers uncertain as to whether authorities took their claims seriously or would provide support.  The government did not report whether any hotline calls led to victim identification, victim referral to care, or any criminal investigations.  According to observers, the policy of attaching migrants’ visas to designated employers increased trafficking risks and prevented some workers from leaving exploitative conditions for extended periods of time.  The media reported the number of labor inspector investigations had decreased since 2017, despite increases in both complaints about migrant exploitation and the number of labor inspectors.  Observers and media reported approximately 90% of migrant exploitation complaints did not receive labor inspectorate follow up between 2021 and October 2022, which may have deterred victims from coming forward and allowed employers to further exploit workers; the government attributed the declining statistics to pandemic-related staffing limitations and changes in visa policy.  However, the government published on its website it supported 314 individuals who filed migrant exploitation complaints between the initiation of its phone and online reporting mechanisms in July 2021 and December 2022; since July 2021, the Labour Inspectorate has filed 59 cases related to migrant exploitation with employment courts.

The government introduced a new temporary work visa program that required employer accreditation to hire migrant workers; however, one observer noted the new visa’s introduction caused significant processing delays, created confusion for employers, and allowed unsuitable employers to obtain accreditation.  The government continued a six-month migrant exploitation protection visa (MEPV), to enable exploited workers whose visa was tied to their employer to obtain alternative employment and remain in New Zealand while authorities investigated their cases; the government issued 127 MEPVs during the reporting period, compared to 87 MEPVs between July 2021 and March 2022.  Nonetheless, advocates said the MEPV did not fully address exploitation facilitated by employer-linked visas and some workers may have been deterred from seeking an MEPV if they held a visa longer than six months.  An NGO noted six months to be an insufficient amount of time for some victims to recover from exploitation and seek sustainable new employment.  Government regulations banned employers who breached employment standards from recruiting migrant workers for periods of six to 24 months and the government published a list of all offending employers on its website.  Immigration officials and labor inspectors inspected legal brothels to ensure conditions complied with the law and conducted investigations and routine audits in workplaces that employed migrant workers.  The law prohibited individuals or companies from charging employment premiums, such as recruitment fees; labor inspectors could initiate proceedings in the Employment Relations Authority to recover premiums and seek a penalty against violators, although authorities did not report taking such action during the reporting period.  The media reported the government ruled against two employers and requested 160,000 NZD ($101,590) in fines for exploiting migrant workers in forced labor on a farm; the employers could potentially resume their business after a 12-month period, pending an individual audit.  The government did not prosecute under criminal charges or certify any of the exploited workers as trafficking victims.  Observers previously reported concern employers could continue operating under a new company and penalties prescribed in employment courts were often not significant enough to deter exploitative practices.  

The government reported the launch of a new toolkit for public-private sector engagement on social and environmental best practices for supply chains, which included a section on worker exploitation.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, such as an awareness campaign that educates purchasers on the possibility of sex trafficking in commercial sex, systematic and proactive screening of individuals in commercial sex, and efforts to eliminate child sex tourism.  The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel or its troops prior to their deployment as peacekeepers.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in New Zealand.  Foreign men and women from South and East Asia, the Pacific, and some countries in Latin America are vulnerable to forced labor in New Zealand’s agricultural, dairy, construction, viticulture, food service, liquor retail, technology, hospitality, transport, and domestic service sectors.  Unregulated and unlicensed immigration brokers operating in New Zealand and source countries, particularly in India, the People’s Republic of China, and the Philippines, facilitate trafficking by assisting in the process to issue visas to victims.  Some foreign workers are charged excessive recruitment fees and experience unjustified salary deductions, non- or under-payment of wages, excessively long working hours, restrictions on their movement, inadequate accommodations, passport retention, and contract alteration.  Some employers force migrants, whose visas are often tied to their employer, to work in job conditions different from those promised during recruitment, and use intimidation tactics and false information about immigration laws to prevent victims from seeking assistanceThe pandemic decreased the ability or opportunities of many foreign nationals to leave New Zealand, and those who became undocumented as a result were increasingly vulnerable to trafficking.  Furthermore, temporary migrant workers in sectors most negatively affected by the pandemic, such as tourism and hospitality, or in positions not requiring formal education or prolonged training, are at high risk for trafficking.  

While experts assessed the Prostitution Reform Act, which decriminalized commercial sex for New Zealand residents, overall increased protections for those who willingly engaged in commercial sex, traffickers continue to target vulnerable populations, such as children, migrants, and adult victims of domestic and family violence for exploitation in sex trafficking.  Traffickers utilized section 19 of the PRA, which prohibited non-residents from legally working in the decriminalized commercial sex industry to use threats of deportation or other adverse action from law enforcement to deter migrants in commercial sex from reporting verbal or physical abuse, unwanted or unsafe sexual practices, or non-payment of wages.  One observer noted young Māori are at high risk of sex trafficking, and in particular, Māori girls and young women are significantly overrepresented among victims sexually exploited.  Traffickers may exploit individuals in the LGBTQIA+ communities, including migrants from countries where free expression of their sexual orientation and/or gender is unlawful.  Foreign women from Asia and South America in commercial sex are at risk of sex trafficking, especially those who do not speak English and who work in private homes, and informal or suburban environments where they are more isolated from service providers.  Some international students and temporary visa holders are at risk of sex and labor trafficking, including young migrant women engaging in commercial sex.  Immigration brokers and unscrupulous brothel owners subject some migrants to conditions indicative of sex trafficking, including non-payment of wages, withheld passports, physical or sexual abuse, threats of deportation, monitored movements, limited access to medical care or other social services, and excessive working hours.  Some migrants are required to pay fines, bonds, recruitment and other fees to brothel operators or brokers, which make them vulnerable to debt-based coercion.  

Some children residing in some Pacific Island and Southeast Asian countries are at risk of exploitation in New Zealand through intercountry adoption pathways.  Some gang members, boyfriends, family members, or others exploit young children and teenagers in sex trafficking by facilitating, purchasing, or forcing them to engage in commercial sex acts.  Traffickers exploit victims within close-knit communities based on familial relationships, ethnic background, or country of origin, creating additional barriers to reporting.  Some adult women, often those who face domestic or family violence, are forced by partners to engage in commercial sex acts.  Traffickers coerce some victims into commercial sex by manipulating drug dependencies or threats by family members.  One service provider reported a notable proportion of its clients disclosed being forced into commercial sex by their partners for their partners to purchase or obtain drugs and other unlawful substances.  Experts suggest the prevalence of forced commercial sex among New Zealand women is significantly under-reported and under-detected.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future