People trafficking

What people trafficking is, who it affects, and what is being done to stop it.

People trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person, using coercion or deception, for the purpose of exploitation. People trafficking does not have to involve crossing a border and often happens entirely within a country. Both migrants and citizens/residents can be impacted.


More information is available on how to help victims of people trafficking.

Help for victims of people trafficking

People trafficking doesn’t have to take place across borders and often happens entirely within a country. It doesn’t happen just to migrants; citizens and residents can be victims too.

What is people trafficking? Information for the community and government PDF 2MB

Is there people trafficking in New Zealand?

People trafficking happens in New Zealand. Since 2015 there have been four people trafficking prosecutions, with at least 51 victims identified. However, given the hidden nature of the crime and the reluctance of victims to come forward, this figure is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. Walk Free estimated that in 2016 around 3,000 people in New Zealand were in conditions of modern slavery.

Global Slavery Index — Walk Free

In September 2016, a man was convicted of 15 people trafficking charges and other Immigration Act 2009 offences, for offending related to 15 Fijian nationals he brought to New Zealand and exploited. The offender was sentenced to 9 years and 6 months imprisonment, and ordered to pay $28,000 in reparations to his victims.

A second man was convicted of other immigration offences related to the same case, and was sentenced to 1 year home detention and ordered to pay $55,000 in reparations to his victims. In addition to his criminal sentence, his house was forfeited in 2021 as some of the money he used to buy it was obtained through exploiting the victims in this case.

In March 2020 a man was convicted of 10 people trafficking and 13 slavery charges. His offending related to 13 Samoan nationals that he arranged to bring to New Zealand and enslave between 1994 and 2017. He was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment, including a minimum non-parole period of 5 years, and ordered to pay $183,000 in reparations to his victims.

What happens to people traffickers in New Zealand?

People trafficking is criminalised under Section 98D of the Crimes Act 1961 and is punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $500,000, or both.

Crimes Act 1961— New Zealand Legislation

In addition to imprisonment, people traffickers can also have any profits from the trafficking taken away, property used for trafficking confiscated, and be made to pay compensation to victims. Migrant exploitation is also criminalised under section 351 of the Immigration Act 2009 and punishable with up to seven years imprisonment of seven years, a fine of up $100,000, or both.

The New Zealand Police and Immigration New Zealand will continue to investigate and respond to any allegations of people trafficking.

What is the government doing to eliminate people trafficking?

New Zealand’s response to people trafficking is set out in the Plan of Action against Forced Labour, People Trafficking and Slavery

Plan of Action against Forced Labour, People Trafficking and Slavery — 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 describes Government actions planned between 2020 – 2025. A wide range of key agencies are responsible for the government’s efforts to address forced labour, people trafficking and slavery, and their responsibilities are captured in the Plan of Action.

International cooperation

The New Zealand Government works with countries in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond to combat people trafficking. This includes working with international counterparts on cross-border people trafficking cases, and people trafficking training.

We also participate in international forums, including:

  • Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking and Related Transnational Crime

About the Bali Process —

  • Pacific Immigration Directors Conference

Pacific Immigration Directors Conference —

  • Migration Five

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.

New Zealand is ranked at Tier 2 in the 2024 United States Trafficking in Persons Report. This means the US determined that we are not fully compliant with their Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but are making significant efforts to do so. The report notes that the New Zealand Government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period. 

Migrant exploitation

As part of a wider Government initiative to combat all forms of exploitation, which is supported by $50m in funding, the Government has enacted measures to better protect migrants from exploitation. While not all victims of trafficking are migrants, and not all victims of trafficking will be exploited, migrants are particularly vulnerable to both trafficking and exploitation. The new measures include a visa to support migrants to leave exploitative situations quickly and remain lawfully in New Zealand, a dedicated 0800 number and web form to make it easier to report migrant worker exploitation.

Addressing temporary migrant worker exploitation — MBIE