2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: New Zealand


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. These efforts included initiating eight trafficking investigations, convicting seven offenders for sex trafficking crimes, funding programs to aid migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation as a result of economic hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic, working to develop new training modules for a variety of government officials, and releasing an updated anti-trafficking national action plan in March 2021. However, these efforts were not serious and sustained compared to the efforts during the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the government convicted offenders in more cases of child sex trafficking than in previous years, it did not identify any victims in these cases as trafficking victims, as it did not use a system to specifically designate individuals as trafficking victims, and many officials and service providers lacked an understanding of all forms of trafficking; this weakened victim protection and may have undermined the ability of the government to recognize current trafficking trends in the country. Furthermore, the government has never reported identifying an adult victim of sex trafficking and did not initiate any prosecutions for labor trafficking for the second consecutive year. In addition, the failure to sentence the majority of traffickers to terms of imprisonment, with six child sex traffickers sentenced to terms ranging from six to 18 months’ home detention, significantly weakened deterrence, undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, and did not adequately address the nature of the crime. Therefore New Zealand was downgraded to Tier 2.


Increase efforts to identify victims through proactive screening of vulnerable populations. • Increase efforts to vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases, and sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms. • Establish a system, such as a national referral mechanism, to ensure victims—including New Zealand citizens—are appropriately identified as trafficking victims and referred to services, as well as to enable the government to 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. • Improve training provided to frontline law enforcement, labor inspectors, and social service providers, including by ensuring officials understand that children in commercial sex are victims of trafficking. • Take steps to improve potential victims’ access to services and ensure government-funded services are suitable for trafficking victims. • Distribute materials to raise public awareness of all forms of human trafficking. • Increase resources for anti-trafficking law enforcement. • 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 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) ($361,530), 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 to 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), 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 for the sex trafficking of children, 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 initiated investigations for eight potential cases of trafficking, initiated two sex trafficking prosecutions, and convicted seven offenders for sex trafficking crimes; compared with nine investigations, five sex trafficking prosecutions, and two convictions (one for labor trafficking and one for sex trafficking) in the previous reporting period. The government did not initiate any prosecutions for labor trafficking for the second consecutive year. Of the seven convicted traffickers, courts convicted one under Section 98 AA of the Crimes Act for attempting to purchase a child for sexual exploitation (among other charges) and sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment. Courts also convicted six for PRA violations related to the receiving of or arranging commercial sex acts from children and sentenced them to six to 18 months’ home detention. A trafficker previously convicted in March 2020 for exploiting 13 Samoan victims in forced labor was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment during the reporting period. Although this represented the longest term of imprisonment sentenced under the trafficking statute to date, the government appealed the judge’s sentence, claiming it was “manifestly inadequate.”

Following the enactment of the trafficking law in 2015, the government has exclusively used Section 98D to prosecute labor offenses, and has never prosecuted a sex trafficking crime, or a case of internal trafficking, under Section 98D. High evidentiary and procedural standards, weak trafficking victim identification, and a lack of sufficient resources and understanding of all forms of trafficking among some government officials continued to result in the prosecution of potential traffickers under different statutes, including non-criminal labor violations. While the government believed that a requirement that the attorney general approve any charges of Section 98D before court proceedings could be initiated signaled the seriousness with which the crime was treated in New Zealand, some observers reported that in practice this encouraged officials to bring alternative charges. Section 98D’s requirement that deception or coercion be demonstrated to constitute a child sex trafficking offense further resulted in the government prosecuting child sex trafficking crimes as violations of the PRA. Although authorities claimed this was done to increase victims’ access to justice and to quickly impose comparable consequence as those convicted for trafficking, during the reporting period this contributed to the majority of convicted traffickers avoiding imprisonment. This weakened deterrence and undercut the government’s overall anti-trafficking efforts. Some experts noted the lack of efforts by law enforcement to treat sex trafficking cases appropriately continued to minimize the prevalence of the crime and resulted in weak efforts to hold traffickers accountable and protect victims. For example, police sometimes failed to investigate traffickers complicit in the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Furthermore, police were not adequately trained to identify indicators of trafficking among victims of domestic or family violence, including in cases where adult victims were forced into commercial sex, and therefore the crime often went unnoticed by authorities.

An anti-trafficking operations group, composed of immigration authorities, police, and the children’s ministry, continued to meet to increase law enforcement coordination. The labor inspectorate 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 when cases weren’t referred for criminal investigations. Immigration New Zealand’s (INZ) serious offences unit investigated trafficking cases but was limited to investigating only those cases in which immigration violations were also identified. In September 2020, New Zealand Police (NZP) released a strategy for addressing transnational organized crime, which included migrant exploitation and trafficking, with the aim of improving understanding of transnational organized crime and increasing coordination among government agencies. The Ministry of Business, Immigration, and Employment (MBIE) continued to require immigration officers, labor inspectors, and other relevant staff to complete an online training module on human trafficking. MBIE worked to develop new training modules for immigration officers, labor inspectors, and other frontline officials on identifying and investigating trafficking, interviewing victims, and processing visas for victims. Although these training modules were not released before the end of the reporting period, MBIE’s anti-trafficking team presented to more than 350 INZ staff members to increase their awareness of trafficking and promote victim protection efforts. NZP continued to require anti-trafficking training for all detectives and included a trafficking and smuggling chapter in its police manual. The government did not report training prosecutors or judiciary officials. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.


The government maintained insufficient victim identification and protection efforts. The government reported using a certification process by which police formally certify a foreign person as a trafficking victim based on reasonable suspicion, enabling victims to access a specific visa category for victims of trafficking and services such as health care. The government reported investigating cases that involved 39 potential foreign victims during the reporting period; however, the extent to which these all of cases featured sex trafficking or forced labor indicators was unclear, and the government did not make any new certifications or find reasonable suspicion any were trafficking victims; this was compared with three labor trafficking victims certified during the previous reporting period. Despite prosecuting suspects for crimes that constitute child sex trafficking during the reporting period, the government reported that it did not identify any sex trafficking victims. The government has never certified a foreign victim of sex trafficking and despite evidence that adults, particularly female victims of family violence, were forced into commercial sex in New Zealand, the government has never identified an adult New Zealander as a victim of sex trafficking.

The government continued to finalize its operational framework to outline the process of victim identification, referral, and provision of victim services for government agencies, which it began drafting in 2017. Law enforcement, immigration, and social service personnel had formal written procedures to guide officials in victim identification. However, beyond the system to certify foreign victims to enable their access to additional services, the government lacked a system to formally recognize trafficking victims, including victims from New Zealand. In addition, it was unclear that formal written procedures were effective or used consistently in practice. For example, authorities consistently failed to formally identify children in commercial sex—a form of sex trafficking according to definitional standards under international law—as victims of trafficking. While victims did not need to be certified or formally designated as trafficking victims to access support services, a lack of recognition that they were subjected to trafficking may have inhibited victims’ ability to obtain specialized services. Overall, the absence of a system to formally recognize victims of trafficking and track the number identified by authorities may have impeded the government’s ability to identify trafficking trends and develop effective responses.

NZP had legal limitations on its ability to proactively screen for sex trafficking victims, including those who are New Zealand citizens, within the legal commercial sex industry, which was primarily regulated by the Ministry of Health. For example, due to regulations prohibiting police from inspecting legal brothels without a complaint, police relied on health ministry officials and an organization that works closely with persons in commercial sex to report potential criminal violations. Nonetheless, the government did not report providing training to the organization’s staff on definitions or indicators of sex trafficking, or procedures for the referral of trafficking victims to services. In addition, when interviewing migrants in commercial sex, one report indicated police did not always provide interpretation for non English speakers, which may have inhibited their ability to screen for trafficking indicators. The contact center for children’s ministry, Oranga Tamariki, distributed a list of questions for hotline staff to ask callers who used certain terms such as trafficking, exploitation, and slavery, and maintained a process for handling potential child trafficking cases, including to refer cases to police; however, the government did not report identifying victims through this mechanism.

The government provided victims with a reflection period, the length of which was dependent on the individual needs of each victim, to recover before deciding whether to cooperate with law enforcement. The government did not allocate funding specifically dedicated to assist trafficking victims or provide services designed for trafficking victims. However, trafficking victims were eligible to receive government-funded services available for all victims of serious crimes that were provided through arrangements with local community groups, and the government provided temporary housing, medical services, employment assistance, and other social services, as well as emergency grants in cases involving debt-based coercion. According to some NGOs, a lack of understanding of trafficking among some social service providers and officials, including a lack of awareness that children in commercial sex and adults forced to engage in commercial sex acts were victims of trafficking, meant some victims may have not received adequate or specialized psycho-social care. Furthermore, some civil society experts reported a lack of adequate services available for child sex trafficking victims, that services were not easily accessible for victims of labor and sex trafficking, and that officials did not provide clear guidance to some NGO service providers seeking government assistance. The government could fund travel and accommodation expenses for victims who had returned to their home countries to travel to New Zealand and participate in court proceedings, but it did not report funding such expenses for trafficking victims during the reporting period. 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; and foreign victims facing hardship or retribution in their home countries could apply for a residence visa. During the reporting period, INZ granted work visas to 15 trafficking victims. In 2019 the government took steps to reconsider the residence applications of victims denied residency by INZ in 2017, after an immigration tribunal subsequently found that INZ had failed to adequately investigate their claims of facing retributive threats against themselves and their families in their home country; during the reporting period, INZ granted residence visas to 11 of these victims, as well as to their family members, and was processing the applications of four additional victims through the end of the reporting period. The law allowed victims to receive restitution from criminal proceedings and victims could seek compensation from assets forfeited in criminal cases through civil claims; however, the government did not report if any victims received restitution or compensation during the reporting period.


The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. INZ chaired the government’s interagency working group on trafficking and operated a three-person team responsible for coordinating government efforts related to anti-trafficking. As a result of the government’s pandemic mitigation efforts, some INZ staff with experience working on anti-trafficking efforts were reassigned to other departments during the reporting period, however the overall number of staff dedicated to anti-trafficking efforts remained stable. In March 2021, the government released its “Plan of Action against Forced Labor, People Trafficking and Slavery” during an anti-trafficking conference co-organized with a foreign embassy and a civil society organization. The government sought feedback from the public on the action plan in October 2020. In contrast with the government’s previous action plan released in 2009, which only addressed transnational trafficking, the new plan recognized all forms of trafficking. INZ held an observatory role within an anti-trafficking advisory group co-chaired by two civil society organizations. Nonetheless, some NGOs suggested collaboration by the government was lacking. The government did not report sufficient efforts to raise awareness of sex trafficking, although it continued to maintain webpages, distribute pamphlets to raise awareness of trafficking indicators and the availability of support services. Efforts to host and participate in forums and workshops with businesses, students, and other community groups to increase awareness were limited by pandemic-related restrictions during the reporting period. Some observers continued to report a lack of sufficient efforts to increase public awareness of trafficking, noting low levels of understanding of the crime across New Zealand, including among social service providers and the general public.

The government continued to distribute guides for employers recruiting Filipino workers, and to send welcome emails with workers’ rights information to all approved residence, work, and student visa holders in 13 languages, as well as other resources for migrant workers. MBIE continued to distribute pamphlets, in five languages, which listed who was able to legally engage in commercial sex and provided information on how to report exploitation, however these materials did not specifically address trafficking. In addition, many of the materials on migrant workers’ rights and employment laws were not clear or distributed effectively, and some workers were unaware of their rights or how to report exploitation. The government did not operate a trafficking specific hotline; however, workers could make complaints through MBIE’s employment rights hotline, which referred cases involving worker exploitation to the labor inspectorate. Immigration authorities’ delays in processing migrant workers’ applications to change conditions of their visas, including changing employers, increased trafficking risks and prevented some workers from leaving exploitative conditions for extended periods of time.

The government implemented a 37.6 million NZD ($27.19 million) program in July 2020 to assist approximately 12,300 temporary visa holders, including migrant workers, who experienced hardship due to the pandemic and were unable to return to their home countries. Through this program, the government provided essential items such as food, housing, clothing, and medication, which may have helped alleviate economic disruptions caused by the pandemic and decrease these temporary visa holders’ vulnerability to exploitation. In December 2020, the government extended additional benefits to an estimated 5,800 temporary visa holders, which included cash payments to be made through August 2021.

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 if this occurred during the reporting period. Government regulations banned employers who breach 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 reported inspecting legal brothels to ensure working conditions complied with the law and conducting investigations and routine audits in work places that employed migrant workers. Some sources believed the labor inspectorate was under staffed and -resourced, which they felt limited its ability to carry out effective inspections and adequately investigate exploitative employment, including potential cases of trafficking; however, the government began recruiting additional labor inspectors during the reporting period. In previous years some observers reported penalties proscribed to unscrupulous employers in employment courts were often not significant enough to deter exploitative practices. In July 2020, Employment New Zealand published online resources encouraging businesses to adopt ethical work practices, including to address forced labor in supply chains. Oranga Tamariki continued to convene a working group to encourage the safety of children traveling across New Zealand’s borders, including by promoting information sharing among relevant agencies. In December 2020, the agency established an international child protection unit, which aimed to prevent and address transnational child protection issues, including trafficking. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.


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 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, passport retention, and contract alteration. Some employers force migrants to work in job conditions different from those promised during recruitment, and victims often do not file complaints due to fear of losing their temporary visas. The pandemic increased the reluctance of many foreign nationals to leave New Zealand, and those who breached their visa conditions as a result were increasingly vulnerable to exploitation. Furthermore, temporary migrant workers in sectors most negatively affected by the pandemic, such as tourism and hospitality, are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation.

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. 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. 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, limiting 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. 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. 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. Some adult women, often those who face domestic or family violence, are forced by partners to engage in commercial sex acts. Some victims are coerced into commercial sex through drug dependencies or threats by family members. One service provider reported that a notable proportion of its clients reported being forced into commercial sex by their partners in order for their partners to purchase or obtain drugs and other substances. However, experts suggest the prevalence of forced commercial sex among New Zealand women is significantly under-reported and under-detected.