A worker sorting through the catch. (Photo: US State Department/www.state.gov)
US report accuses NZ of slavery
Thursday, June 21, 2012, 03:00 (GMT + 9)
New Zealand is facing accusations that it subjects foreign workers to forced labour on fishing vessels and girls into prostitution. The US State Department annual Trafficking in Persons report was released by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week and claims that NZ lacks thorough anti-trafficking laws and does not criminalise all forms of forced labour.
Clinton called for trafficking "to be labelled for what it is, slavery.”
The report examines the trafficking of 25 million people around the world. It said foreign men -- largely from Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand -- are "allegedly victims of forced labour on fishing vessels in New Zealand waters."
"Alleged conditions experienced by workers on these boats - most of which are Republic of Korea (South Korea)-flagged - include confiscation of passports, imposition of significant debts, physical violence, mental abuse, and excessive hours of work," the State Department says, Fairfax NZ News reports.
Notably, a Korean crew member on Oyang 75 was accused of sexually abusing six Indonesian crew members and that officers on one vessel allegedly sexually and physically abused the mainly Indonesian crew of 32 men.
The NZ Government is responding by defending the country’s reputation.
Immigration Minister Nathan Guy noted that the report looks at 180 countries and thus must be considered in its entirety, NZ Newswire reports.
"We line up with countries like Australia, Canada, the US and the UK - the overall tone of the report, I thought, was pretty good," he stated.
The government has already been addressing human rights abuses and low wages on foreign-flagged fishing boats, Guy stressed, and these boats will have to carry the New Zealand flag within the next four years, but they are also starting to make the change.
"Currently these boats operate under their own country's laws, with re-flagging they will operate under New Zealand law - there's a big change coming up," the minister said.
The Maritime Union believes the heavy criticism is justified and serves to verify how bad practices have become in the country’s maritime sector.
Maritime Union of NZ General Secretary Joe Fleetwood congratulated the forceful nature of the report, which he called a "major embarrassment" for the government and fishing industry.
"This report confirms and vindicates the stance of the Maritime Union that the deregulated industry and exploitation of overseas labour has been a stain on New Zealand's reputation," he said. "The Maritime Union has been pushing for action on this issue for a decade."
The group STOP THE TRAFFIK Aotearoa, which was launched in Parliament this week, has also required the New Zealand government to put an end to slavery in the workplace.
The new group, which is a New Zealand arm of global anti-slavery activist group STOP THE TRAFFIK created to struggle against slave work worldwide, is coordinated by the Salvation Army in New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga.
Steering committee member and co-author of a major investigation into labour and human rights abuses on foreign-flagged fishing vessels Dr Christina Stringer says the report identification is consistent with her research data.
- Korean vessel estimated to have dumped USD 1mln worth of fish
-Govt to ban foreign-flagged fishing vessels
- Korea to investigate allegations of abuse, fish dumping
By Natalia Real