Rule of Law

Countering Human Trafficking is an Ongoing Challenge by Rachael Steller

At first glance, it is difficult to believe that human trafficking is an offence that is taking place in New Zealand. It is a reminder that the rule of law sometimes does not reach far enough.

In one recent case, two men were charged with human trafficking in New Zealand on August 28, and face a total of 11 charges. One of the men is facing another seven charges, along with a further 36 charges with a third man for giving false or misleading information to a refugee status officer in that country.

Human trafficking continues to provide forced labour in a surprisingly wide range of commercial pursuits that are notorious for low wages and conditions. It is a growing problem globally, affecting industries as varied as fishing, agriculture and farming, hospitality, entertainment and sex work, and even nursing.

Victims are often coerced into unpaid labour, prostitution — including the sexual exploitation of children — forced marriages and surrogacy, sweatshops, organ harvesting, and other indignities.

Many of the victims are residents of poorer Asian nations like Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia, and are tricked into making sea journeys working as sailors or to travel to promised jobs, only to find themselves trapped by unsubstantiated debt, confiscated identity papers, physical and psychological abuse, appalling working conditions and inadequate shelter.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that access to justice for many of these aggrieved people is not easy to acquire. For example, legislation in New Zealand does not presently recognise trafficking internally, and excludes exploitation as a purpose for the offence. In many cases the best that victims of exploitation can hope for is a return to their country of origin.

However, there are those willing to provide assistance to victims of forced labour, trafficking or slavery. Slave Free Seas provides legal assistance for victims — and promotes prosecution where possible — along with programmes to raise public awareness of the problem, research into the extent of human trafficking around the world, and advocacy for legislative change. Among its members are lawyers who specialise in maritime law and human rights, academics and business people.

Slave Free Seas has cooperated with other like-minded groups and LexisNexis to produce a free resource to assist those helping victims to seek justice, in any jurisdiction around the world, and to encourage the legal pursuit of those who try to profit from human trafficking.

Among those resources is Practical Guidance – Slave Free, a free legal resource prepared by Slave Free Seas and LexisNexis, to assist legal practitioners in their support of victims. It contains general information on modern slavery and human trafficking, practical guidance on advocacy for victims’ rights, and ways to seek policy changes in jurisdictions that do not provide adequate safeguards for victims. For a sample of this content, download: Case study - Trafficking in New Zealand's fishing industry from Or to access the full module, go to

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