Modern slavery present in islands: report

A report on modern slavery in the Pacific islands compiled by an international human rights organisation has provided an assessment of the illegal practice in eight countries including Samoa.

The report, Murky waters: A qualitative assessment of modern slavey in the Pacific region, was published by the anti-slavery organisation Walk Free last week and reveals what the Australian-based organisation said is “alarming evidence of modern slavery” in Australia, New Zealand and eight Pacific island states.

It added that the issue is being “fuelled” by widespread poverty, migration and the abuse of cultural practices and are further exacerbated by climate change. 

The report was based on existing peer-reviewed and grey alliteration, the organisation’s assessment of action taken by governments to address modern slavery, as well as information gathered through semi-structured interviews with anti-slavery stakeholders in eight countries in the region: Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu.

Interviews were also done to “capture local knowledge on the nature of modern slavery in these countries” with regard to forms, victims, sectors at risk, vulnerabilities, key gaps, and practices.

“Modern slavery is a present and persistent issue in the Pacific region and one that must be dealt with alongside a multitude of complex, interconnected issues such as climate change, gender-based violence, poverty, and unemployment,” the report concluded. 

“Forced labour for labour exploitation and sexual exploitation, worst forms of child labour, and forced and early marriage were identified across the region. In all eight focus countries, at least one but often several forms of modern slavery were identified.”

According to senior researcher Elise Gordon, the report shines a light on some troubling trends in the region.

“There is a perfect storm of conditions which we expect will lead to increased vulnerability to modern slavery in the Pacific region. This is not happening on the other side of the globe; it is right here in Australia and on Australia’s doorstep,” Ms Gordon said in a statement issued by Walk Free.

“We have heard reports of signs of modern slavery among migrant workers in the construction industry, stemming from increasing foreign investment in Pacific Island communities.

“Also fishing, a major industry in the region, brings with it a poor track record as being notorious for forced labour and human trafficking for labour exploitation.

“Pacific island communities are also some of the worst impacted by climate change. Natural disasters, which damage lives and livelihoods, impede the development of these countries, and rising water levels exacerbate poverty and drive migration.

“Climate-induced displacement must be met with greater opportunities for seasonal and permanent migration, but not at the expense of strong protections in both labour sending and receiving countries that ensure workers and their families do not end up exploited or in modern slavery.

 “Our research has also indicated that traditional views of the role of women, girls and children could be contributing to increased vulnerability to forced and underage marriage, forced sexual exploitation, and commercial sexual exploitation of children in the region.”

As for Samoa, the report made mention of the case in the New Zealand High Court which saw Samoan Joseph Auga Matamata, 65, found guilty last week on 10 counts of trafficking and 13 counts of slavery at the conclusion of a five-week trial.

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