The kiwifruit industry says it is "totally committed" to protecting migrant workers from exploitation after a Tauranga man facing exploitation charges made his second court appearance this week.
Jafar Kurisi has been charged under the Immigration Act 2009 with exploitation of an employee. The charge carries a maximum penalty of up to seven years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
His appearance comes after a joint investigation by Immigration New Zealand (INZ), supported by the police, and the Labour Inspectorate was launched in July after Zespri alerted INZ to allegations that two contracting companies were exploiting migrant workers.
"Information provided to INZ from different sources, including a comprehensive file from the kiwifruit industry allowed us to start building a picture of alleged worker exploitation by contractors in the Kiwifruit industry in the Bay of Plenty," Stephen Vaughan, INZ's general manager of verification and compliance, said on Thursday.
"Exploitation of vulnerable migrants will not be tolerated in New Zealand and we are fortunate to be working closely with the kiwifruit industry to ensure temporary workers are treated with respect and have the same employment conditions that all workers in New Zealand are entitled too."
Zespri chief executive Dan Mathieson said migrant exploitation is unacceptable and the kiwifruit industry is totally committed to protecting its workers.
"While the vast majority of employers in the kiwifruit industry care for their people, a small minority fail to do so," said Mathieson.
"That’s unacceptable and we’re committed to holding them to account and to the continued development of robust compliance frameworks to help us do so.
"This includes vetting contractors before they’re allowed to work in the industry, regular audits, and a commitment to investigating concerns and to taking action against employers who fail to meet our standards."
Mathieson said those who had been impacted by the exploitation were being supported by the industry, including being provided with temporary employment with local orchards.
"People who choose to work in our industry are a critical part of our success and we want them to succeed too. Alongside the Government and NZKGI [New Zealand New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated] we will continue to do everything we can to combat exploitation of workers and create an industry where people can thrive."
In 2016, Kurisi faced charges after playing a role in enticing Fijians to come to New Zealand to work. His co-accused in that case, Faroz Ali, was the first person to be convicted of human trafficking in New Zealand.
Kurisi was found guilty in 2017 of four representative charges relating to 13 workers who were not entitled to work in New Zealand. He was ordered to pay $55,000 and sentenced to 12 months' home detention.
INZ confirmed the latest charges against Kurisi related to a separate investigation.
Vaughan said investigations were continuing and more charges were possible.