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Modern slavery expert hopes more victims will come forward following NZ's first conviction

A leading expert on modern slavery hopes yesterday's sentencing of Joseph Matamata will help other victims of slavery and human trafficking in New Zealand come forward.

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Leading expert on modern slavery Dr Natalia Szablewska says it's hard to know how many people in New Zealand are victims. Source: Breakfast

Dr Natalia Szablewska, who is also a law expert at Auckland University of Technology, said it's hard to know how many victims are out there - but she predicts there are more.

Over the course of 25 years, Matamata lured people from Samoa to New Zealand promising employment, but instead he took their money, assaulted them and reduced them to slavery.

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

Yesterday, Matamata was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

He is the first person to be found guilty on both human trafficking and slavery charges in New Zealand.

The sentencing marked the end of a three-year investigation from Immigration New Zealand, New Zealand Police and Samoan authorities.

Eleven-year prison sentence ordered for man convicted in NZ's first slavery case

Dr Szablewska told TVNZ1's Breakfast today that it is estimated about 40 million people around the world are currently in similar positions to those who bravely came forward in the Matamata case.

When asked about New Zealand specifically, she said "it's very difficult to put estimates on what's happening in New Zealand, or anywhere else for that matter, but I suspect the number is much higher".

"The importance of this case is that there is a hope that some victims that...might have been afraid to come forward, they're encouraged to do that.

"Unfortunately, I think there will be more cases that we'll come across and I'm hoping that we're going to have more honest conversation in New Zealand about the problem."

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Immigration New Zealand's general manger of verification and compliance says bringing Joseph Matamata down was a joint effort from organisations. Source: Breakfast

However, Dr Szablewska said sometimes people may not even know they are a victim or what's happening to them is illegal.

She also said traffickers tend to have a good way of building bonds with their victims, and making them appear like a perceived protector.

Dr Szablewska said a victim-focused, rather than punitive approach, is needed to turn the problem around.

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Lawyer Roger Phillip says Joseph Matamata will consider the sentence before deciding on a potential appeal. Source: 1 NEWS

"One of the main reasons why victims do not come forward is because they're going to be treated as illegal immigrants and they're going to be expelled from the country," she said. 

"The New Zealand Government has committed that it will increase inspectors, because really it's about labour checks and making sure that we know whats happening out there.

"Do we have enough of labour inspectors out there? I suspect we don't.

"It's about priorities and whether we in New Zealand perceive it to be a priority, a national priority. And I hope, if it hasn't been the case, it will be the case that we will see it as a national priority to protect everyone irrespective of their status."

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Joseph Matamata has been jailed for more than 10 years for exploiting his own people, fruit pickers from Samoa. Source: 1 NEWS