27 Jul 2020

Man convicted of human trafficking and slavery to be sentenced

8:31 am on 27 July 2020

A man who promised his workers a better life in New Zealand but instead beat them will be sentenced in Napier today.

Joseph Auga Matamata aka Viliamu Samu in court

Joseph Auga Matamata, who is also known as Viliamu Samu in court Photo: RNZ/ Anusha Bradley

Joseph Auga Matamata, the first person to be convicted of both human trafficking and slavery in New Zealand, will appear at the High Court in Napier this morning.

For nearly two decades, Matamata brought people from Samoa over to Hastings, selling them a better life.

But instead, he did not pay them and beat them if they refused to follow his rules.

During his five-week trial earlier this year, Matamata denied any wrongdoing.

He sat quietly gazing at his victims, sometimes smiling and often looking bored as they gave evidence.

Between 1994 and April 2019, Matamata brought 13 Samoans over to Hastings for horticultural work.

They sometimes worked 14 hour days, seven days a week with no pay.

After work they were forced to complete chores at Matamata's home late into the night and they would get beaten if his strict rules were disobeyed.

The oldest victim was in his 50s and the youngest was just 12.

Matamata continually denied keeping them in his house, saying during the trial "there's no rule".

"Their own way of talking ... I've got no rules in my house, everybody's same, everybody do [sic] what they want to do, go out, go to the shop, anywhere, I don't stop them."

But the jurors disagreed, taking seven and a half hours to deliver the verdict.

Matamata was found guilty of 10 charges in human trafficking and 13 charges in dealing in slaves.

He was acquitted on one trafficking charge.

AUT senior law lecturer Natalia Szablewska specialises in international human rights and followed the case closely.

She said before this case, many New Zealanders might have thought this could not happen here

"It has been a really important case, kind of almost irrespectively of what the penalty will be for Mr Matamata, because it opens our eyes to the reality and the reality is that kind of exploitation, that level of exploitation of workers, can and does happen in New Zealand."

New Zealand Apples and Pears business development manager Gary Jones said the case made his industry wonder if they were doing enough to find and stop the exploitation.

"We have to be partnering the development of systems and processes which look deep into those supply chains and essentially elevate the voice of the employee and the worker so that we can hear those voices and we can understand how they're being looked after."

Each slavery charge carries a maximum of 14 years in prison, while the human trafficking charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison or a $500,000 fine.

Last month, the Crown successfully took half of Matamata's property, including his shares in homes on Kiwi St, Camberley, to put towards reparations for his victims.