Pacific News Minute: Slavery Scandal in New Zealand: “This is a new low”

Dec 18, 2018

Credit landed / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

A Samoan man has been arrested in New Zealand on charges of slavery and people trafficking. While there have been a few prosecutions over the last few years for exploitation of migrant workers, an immigration official described this case as “A new low for New Zealand.”

At a news conference, Detective Inspector Mike Foster told reporters that a Samoan national later identified as Viliamu Samu lured at least ten people to New Zealand with promises of high paying jobs. He described Samu as a respected member of his community, who targeted vulnerable people with limited education and literacy.

Once they were in New Zealand, Samu contracted them out to commercial orchards in and around Hawke’s Bay. They were not paid for their work, their passports were confiscated, their contacts restricted, they were threatened and physically abused. Immigration New Zealand General Manager Peter Devoy said the case bears the hallmark of modern slavery.

The officials said that Viliamu Samu started his slavery ring in the mid-1990s and that while he’s charged with treating ten individuals as slaves, there could the more.

He faces eight additional charges of trafficking. Each slavery charge carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, and as much as 20 for each case of trafficking. The officials said that the owners of the orchards probably didn’t know what was going on. The investigation was conducted over two years and involved cooperation from police in Samoa.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Credit Governor - General of New Zealand / CC BY 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the Morning Post, “We want to do more to uncover where exploitation is occurring.” The scandal will prompt consideration of the Modern Slavery Act, a law adopted by the United Kingdom in 2015; a version enacted in Australia comes into effect on January first.