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Zespri helped bring migrant exploitation case, further charges possible

Investigator says exploited migrants likely ‘in the 100s’; proactive action by industries needed.

Zespri CEO Dan Mathieson

A Tauranga man previously convicted of migrant exploitation is again before the courts facing charges of exploiting an employee, with further charges possible.

Jafar Kurisi made his second court appearance this week following a joint investigation by Immigration New Zealand (INZ), the police, and the labour inspectorate. The investigation was launched in July after kiwifruit marketer Zespri alerted INZ to allegations that two contracting companies were exploiting migrant workers and provided a comprehensive file of evidence.

Zespri chief executive Dan Mathieson said this case showed how the kiwifruit industry was totally committed to protecting all workers and ensuring it was free from exploitation.

“While the vast majority of employers in the kiwifruit industry care for their people, a small minority fail to do so. That’s unacceptable and we’re committed to holding them to account and to the continued development of robust compliance frameworks to help us do so.”

That included vetting contractors, regular audits, and a commitment to investigating concerns and to taking action against employers who fail to meet standards.

In 2016, Kurisi, who has previously been known as Md Wagid Ali, pleaded guilty to exploitation charges relating to 13 workers while he was a fruit farm labour contractor in the Bay of Plenty. His co-accused in that case, Faroz Ali, was the first person to be convicted of human trafficking in New Zealand. In 2017, Kurisi was sentenced to 12 months home detention and ordered to pay reparation of $55,000.

Layers of subcontractors can o

bscure bad players

On its website, Zespri has a list of approved contractors and a second list of three cancelled or suspended contractors. Jafar Kurisi is not named the second list, nor is he a director or shareholder of any company on the companies register.

The firm that carried out the investigation for Zespri, compliance risk investigator AIM CRI, said it was not uncommon for people with known histories of exploitation to subsequently operate behind the façade of a ‘phoenix’ company with different listed directors and shareholders.

AIM CRI general manager Casey Costello said this practice made it difficult to spot bad players in industries such as horticulture where there were many layers of contractors and subcontractors.

AMI CRI general manager Casey Costello

She praised Zespri for its amazingly proactive stance and Immigration New Zealand for its swift action. Government agencies were stretched and so it was up to industries to actively scrutinise their supply chains as Zespri had in this case, she said.

“That’s when we are going to get rid of [migrant exploitation], when industry is prepared to invest in eliminating it rather than just writing a policy document,” she said.

“There’s a real human cost and it’s not pretty. These people have been allowed to come into New Zealand and you might have the attitude that it’s better than what they came from, but we can’t tolerate it.”

Costello, who’s been working in the field for 18 months, estimated at any one time, exploited migrant workers in New Zealand – not including people who choose to work here illegally – numbered in the hundreds, and with so many workers stuck in the country due to Covid travel restrictions, many were especially vulnerable now.

She said New Zealand’s first human trafficking prosecution did start to shift mindsets – “people realised this wasn’t just about people missing tea breaks and being paid a little bit less under the table”.

University of Auckland Business School associate professor Christina Stringer and University of Waikato professor Francis Collins carried out research for MBIE into temporary migrant worker exploitation, published last year. It found the problem was still widespread in New Zealand and fed into a ministry review that generated a raft of changes and new rules, which will start coming into effect from 2021.

University of Auckland migrant exploitation expert Christina Stringer

Among the changes will be a duty on third parties “with significant control or influence over an employer to take reasonable steps to prevent a breach of employment standards occurring”, a dedicated migrant exploitation 0800 phone line and online reporting, and a new visa to enable temporary migrant workers to leave exploitative employment situations.

Stringer said horticulture was one of the industries prone to exploitation, partly due to its seasonal nature and labour shortages.

The affected workers in the current case are being supported by the kiwifruit industry and have been provided with temporary employment with local orchards.

Costello said one of those workers “just couldn’t stop crying when he got the opportunity to work and earn a proper income”.

Immigration New Zealand’s Stephen Vaughan said investigations were continuing and more charges were possible.

Senior Journalist, NBR

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