People trafficking

The United Nations defines people trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by deceptive, coercive or other improper means for the purpose of exploiting that person. It is a global crime, committed at the expense of victims who are robbed of their dignity and freedom.

Most trafficked persons consent to their initial movement, and are often lured with false offers of employment. It is often not until they arrive in New Zealand that it becomes clear they were deceived and are exploited. Victims do not always fit stereotypes of forced movement and confinement. Most victims are given certain degrees of freedom. Control is typically achieved through debt bondage, isolation, fear, and/or threats around immigration status. 

There is a lack of accurate information on the scope and scale of global people trafficking. This is a result of the hidden nature of the problem, the confusion between trafficking and migrant smuggling, the lack of accurate data recording systems, and the lack of information sharing between agencies.

Although more people are becoming aware of people trafficking, the crime persists. New Zealand is committed to combatting people trafficking in all its forms and at all levels.

Immigration New Zealand and the New Zealand Police protect, not punish, victims of trafficking. We treat them as persons in need of protection. 

Help for victims of people-trafficking

People-trafficking is not the same as people smuggling

There are some key differences between people trafficking and people smuggling.

Purpose of the crime

The purpose of trafficking is always exploitation, and it can occur over an indefinite period of time.

The purpose of smuggling is to obtain a financial or other benefit from helping a person enter a country illegally.

Consent and victimisation

The consent of a trafficked person is not relevant to the crime because of the coercive, deceptive, or abusive actions of the trafficker.

Smuggled migrants have generally consented to being smuggled although they may become a victim of other crimes in the course of being smuggled.


Trafficking can be both across and within borders.

Smuggling is always cross border.

The New Zealand Government’s response

The New Zealand Government has a comprehensive, whole-of-government response to people trafficking.

Combatting Modern Forms of Slavery: Plan of Action against Forced Labour, People Trafficking and Slavery 2020–25 | MBIE

The Plan of Action is organised across three key pillars: Prevention, Protection, and Enforcement. These pillars are underpinned by a partnership approach, with effective partnerships across government agencies, civil society, business, unions, academia and internationally being critical to success.

The plan will ensure:

  • New Zealand implements measures to meet its international commitments and prevent the conditions that enable forced labour, people trafficking and slavery. This includes meeting our commitments under the Forced Labour Protocol, which came into force for New Zealand in December 2020.
  • New Zealand works to proactively identify victims and supports them to safety and recovery by putting their protection and needs at the heart of our responses.
  • The enforcement tools available to disrupt exploitation and hold people to account, particularly through prosecution, are effectively used. 

The plan will be implemented over the course of the next five years to 2025. A wide range of key agencies are responsible for the government’s efforts to address forced labour, people trafficking and slavery, including:

  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
  • New Zealand Police
  • Oranga Tamariki — Ministry for Children
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Ministry of Justice
  • New Zealand Customs Service
  • Department of Internal Affairs
  • Ministry of Social Development
  • Ministry of Health
  • Ministry for Pacific Peoples
  • Ministry for Women.

International cooperation

The New Zealand Government works collaboratively with countries in the region to combat people trafficking. We participate in international forums, including:

  • Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking and Related Transnational Crime
  • Pacific Immigration Directors Conference
  • Five Country Conference.

New Zealand also works with international agencies, such as the International Organisation for Migration, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. We are also committed to building strong relationships with non-governmental organisations, both domestically and internationally.

Punishing traffickers

New Zealand has comprehensive laws to prosecute people-traffickers. The courts may imprison convicted traffickers for 20 years and fine them up to NZ $500,000.

Recognise and report suspected people trafficking

You need to be aware of the warning signs and report your suspicions to the Police.

Help for victims of people-trafficking


US Trafficking in Persons Report

New Zealand has maintained a Tier-1 status in the US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, published in June 2020. This means that New Zealand fully complies with its minimum standards.

2020 Trafficking in Persons Report | US Department of State

Regional forums

Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking and Related Transnational Crime

Pacific Immigration Directors Conference

International agencies

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

International Organisation for Migration

United Nations Human Rights – Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

United Nations Refugee Agency – High Commission for Refugees

International Labour Organisation