Labour brokers and farming organisations have welcomed the intergovernmental decision to have the Department of Employment and Labour identify and inspect possible human trafficking cases on farms.
Weekend Argus has learnt that inspectors at the department have been tasked with identifying incidents of possible human trafficking of vulnerable women and children, especially on farms across the province.
The department’s chief inspector, David Esau, explained that they were working with six other government departments to perform identification duties.
“What's important to understand is that we are not mandated to investigate. What we do is identify, while our core function is to inspect because we have our feet on the ground,” he said.
In 2019, seven Chinese nationals were arrested for alleged human trafficking and child labour in Johannesburg.
Kevin Tsao Shu-Uei, Chen Hui, Qin Li, Jiaqing Zhou, Ma Biao, Dai Junying, and Zhang Zhilian are currently on trial and are facing Schedule 6 offences.
The charges include trafficking persons, a contravention of the Immigration Act, kidnapping, pointing a firearm, debt bondage, benefiting from the services of a victim of trafficking, conduct that facilitates trafficking, illegally assisting person(s) to remain in South Africa, and failure to comply with duties of an employer.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Southern Africa said it was concerned about the incidence of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) along with the Smuggling of Migrants (SOM).
UNODC explained that the most vulnerable victims of human trafficking are people in economic need, undocumented migrants, children in dysfunctional families, persons who are marginalised, such as those with mental disorders.
The organisation added that human trafficking comes in various forms, such as sexual exploitation and trafficking, forced labour and organ harvesting.
The organisation said the multifaceted crime of trafficking in persons calls for a multi-sectoral response, from law enforcement to labour inspectors, national human rights inspectors, national human rights institutions, child protections services, and others.
Wendy Pekeur, co-ordinator of Ubuntu Rural Youth and Women, said the announcement was crucial.
“We find that human trafficking happening on our farms, young girls being groomed from a young age and later on being exploited. We also find that a lot of these cases are linked to undocumented migrants.
“What makes it difficult is that these people are often afraid to talk about their experiences, so when you have a governmental department like labour stepping in, it will expose those who are sitting at the top of such rings,” she said.
Pekeur said she also had hopes that it would curb incidents on farms.
“South African farms are targeted because of the children. Their parents are often led to our country with job offers, they end up working on farms where they are exploited and become desperate to make ends meet and that's how the children end up being groomed.
“So starting from the root of job opportunities will definitely help us curb the trafficking industry,” said Pekeur.
A farming broker, who spoke to Weekend Argus on the basis of anonymity, said they were also aware of the problem.
“Farmers make use of undocumented workers for cheap labour and that is what often leads to human trafficking.
“These people then end up being sent to do other side hustles which they didnt sign up for,” he said.
The broker said that he believed that the labour department's involvement would help regulate the law.
“This will have a domino effect on everything, and starting at farms is a really good move,” he said.