An organic farm near Christchurch could be liable to pay $20,000 to workers after claiming they were "volunteers" on the farm while travelling.
The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has found Robinwood Farms breached the rights of workers it claimed were volunteers, following an inspectorate investigation.
Some "volunteers" worked up to 40 hours a week on the farm in Tai Tapu, which included gardening and cutting firewood, and were given $120 a week, along with board and accommodation.
But a witness statement provider to the ERA from a worker claims the living conditions were "inhumane", where they slept in a small storage room under the stairs without proper ventilation or a heater.
The inspectorate was also told food was routinely collected from waste bins at supermarkets before being fed to workers at Robinwood Farms along with spoilt meat.
While no records were kept on site, sole director Julia Osselton says she had over 1000 people travel through her business every year.
"Rather than enjoying a genuine volunteer experience, these people were exploited as free labour for the profit of Ms Osselton's businesses," labour inspectorate national manager Stu Lumsden said.
"While Ms Osselton claimed that these workers were 'WWOOFers' [World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farmers] engaged in a cultural and skill based exchange, and not employees, our investigation showed this was clearly not the case.
"It is not acceptable for businesses to attempt to evade their obligations by calling their workers volunteers and simply rewarding them with a bed and some food."
The ERA already ruled against one of Ms Osslelton's businesses for her use of volunteers, with more than $20,000 paid to a Spanish man employed by Karamea Holiday Homes.
Penalties to be paid by Robinwood Farms for the breaches are still being discussed.