New Zealand’s First Conviction on Charges of Human Trafficking and Slavery Simultaneously

By Rashi Jain-

The High Court of Napier on this Monday convicted Joseph Auga Matamata, a 65 years old and a horticultural contractor for the charges of human trafficking of 10 counts and slavery of 13 counts. Victims of his inhumane actions are 13 Samoan men, women and child, oldest being 53 years old and the youngest being 12 years old. He managed to bring them to Hastings, a city in New Zealand from a small village of Samoa.

Western Samoa is a south pacific island nation, which used to be governed by New Zealand until its independence in the year 1962.

Joseph Matamata was a Matai – or a chief. Matamata has a position of authority, trust, and respect. In Samoan culture, the Matai is a person who holds the family or community chief title and commands significant respect.

In 1994, Matamata lured his first two victims to Hastings by assuring them of a paid job in horticulture and education in New Zealand. Victims were a brother and a sister aged 17 and 15 respectively at that time. Instead of giving payment for jobs and education, Matamata made them work for long hours every day without any payments.

‘He promised paid horticultural work or schooling in New Zealand and paid for their flights, visas, and passports. But upon arrival, they worked long hours, often seven days a week, for no pay while “bags in ash” were handed over to Matamata’ – said by Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker.

All 13 victims were forced to do work day and night. They lived behind a tall perimeter fence of wires and locked doors. They weren’t allowed to leave the premises without permission. They were ordered not to communicate with their family members back in Samoa unless permitted. They weren’t allowed to communicate with passers-by and connect with other people. If they don’t abide by the orders of Matamata, they were assaulted and beaten.

Victims also said that they were too scared to come forward and complain about Matamata due to his chiefly status, which commanded total obedience.

“Matamata’s victims trusted him completely because he was a matai, a Samoan chief. That trust was misplaced. He abused his matai position” – Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker.

In 2017, almost 25 years later, the first allegation against Matamata behaviour and action was brought to Immigration New Zealand (IMZ) and New Zealand Police’s attention. IMZ and the police held the high-level investigation continuously for 3 years.

Finally, in the year 2020, Conviction of the first person in New Zealand’s history for human trafficking and slavery was made by a court in New Zealand and was sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment and NZ$ 183,000 ($ 122,000) for reparations to his victims.