A University of Canterbury (UC) law postgraduate student has investigated allegations of human trafficking for forced labour in foreign charter vessels in New Zealand's fishing industry and the country’s response to such allegations.
In the last two years, stories of abuse suffered by fishermen working on board foreign charter vessels in New Zealand's waters have been brought to light through the work of advocacy groups following reports of abuse.
Thomas Harre says in some instances, abuse appears to amount to forced labour. Fishermen are taken through deceptive recruitment strategies into a jurisdictional twilight zone where their labour is exploited.
My masters thesis was not a purely theoretical exercise. It was underpinned by the aim of holding accountable those who are perpetrating human rights abuses at sea.
As a country we do not go far enough in terms of identifying victims of this type of human trafficking. Without official status as a victim of human trafficking, a trafficked individual has almost no ability to achieve redress for the abuse they have suffered.
New Zealand has signed and ratified the United Nations anti-trafficking protocol. Consequently, it needs to meet its obligation under that protocol to recognise all forms of human trafficking.
The international law surrounding human trafficking law is at the cutting edge of human rights law. Working in this area puts you right on the front line of the contemporary abolitionist movement.
I am working with the non-government organisation Slave Free Seas (SFS). which is a group of lawyers and business people who are fighting the business of modern slavery. We are concerned with corporate abuses of human rights on board foreign fishing vessels.
SFS is currently developing a toolbox of strategies that can be used by lawyers, NGOs and others around the world who find themselves faced with the task of obtaining justice for victims of human trafficking.
Next year, I will begin work on my PhD which will be an in depth look at the international law of human trafficking for forced labour at sea.
Like my law thesis, this will deal with largely uncharted waters. It will help to answer important questions about how we can best protect the rights of highly vulnerable people from abuse by irresponsible corporate operators.’’
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