The research was commissioned by six non-governmental organisations (NGO) after human rights abuses were exposed on foreign charter boats.
The report, “Worker exploitation in New Zealand: a troubling landscape”, showed modern-day slavery was happening across many industries including hospitality, construction and dairy.
Researcher Dr Christina Stringer said as well as being a serious human rights issue, the exploitation of migrant workers put New Zealand’s reputation at risk.
Stringer interviewed 105 people over two years. Some of the most common exploitation included excessive work hours without breaks (up to 18 hour shifts and 80 to 90 hour weeks), no pay or severe underpayment, and degrading treatment such as being denied bathroom breaks and verbal or physical abuse.
In the horticulture industry, for example, workers were commonly paid less than the minimum wage, with some being paid as little as $5 an hour.
In hospitality, one worker reported getting paid for four to five hours of work despite working 90-hour weeks.
A farm worker said they had to kill more than 300 bobby calves with a hammer and others reported poor working conditions, lack of pay and poor treatment of animals.
Those interviewed in the construction industry reported entering into debt bondages to pay recruitment fees of about $10,000 each. When they arrived in New Zealand, their work experience documents and passports were held by an immigration advisor until they had paid their fees off.
Stringer said many temporary migrants put up with exploitation so they can get permanent residency, or because they were forced or lied to by their employer.
“These workers’ contribution to our economy must be valued and the vulnerable among them must be properly protected,” she said.
The NGOs, which include Stand Against Slavery and Child Alert (or ECPAT NZ), are calling for the Government to set up a human trafficking office and fund more research into vulnerable groups.
The group is also calling on a private sector investment, a mandatory country induction for migrant workers to explain their rights and where to get help and a red flag system to identify trafficking and labour exploitation.
Stand Against Slavery chief executive Peter Mihaere said the report showed slavery was right in our backyards and action was needed immediately.
“Let us be very clear, this research is just the beginning. We need to work together, carry out more in-depth research and put in place solutions needed for New Zealand to be exploitation and slavery free.”