The U.S. State Department’s decision to downgrade Thailand in its annual report on human trafficking has been criticized by the Thai government.
The 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released 30 June by the U.S. State Department, dropped Thailand from Tier 2 to the so-called “Tier 2 Watch List,” citing its lack of progress on fighting human trafficking.
"The [Thai] government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity," the U.S. report said.
The report also found Thai authorities did not do enough to put an end to forced migrant labor, especially in the fishing, seafood, and garment sectors.
“Despite widespread reports that forced labor was prevalent among migrant workers in many industries in Thailand, the government identified a low number of labor trafficking victims compared to the scope of the problem, officials often lacked an understanding of labor trafficking, and the government lacked standard procedures for labor inspectors to refer potential cases to law enforcement,” the report found. “Thai authorities have never reported identifying a victim of labor trafficking as a result of fishing vessel inspections conducted at ports. The government’s provision of services to victims remained inadequate, and some victims residing in government shelters lacked freedom of movement. Corruption and official complicity continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts, and the government convicted five complicit officials in 2020.”
While the report noted Thailand’s is “making significant efforts” to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it said its efforts weren’t adequate to address the problems identified by the U.S. government.
In a 2 July statement, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs brushed aside the downgrade.
“Noting such ranking, Thailand finds it disappointing that the report does not reflect fairly the significant efforts and concrete progress Thailand has made in combatting human trafficking. The TIP Report, after all, unilaterally makes an evaluation from the U.S.’ very own view and by no means represents any international standard,” it said.
The calling out of Thailand’s shortcomings in its efforts to reform its fishing and seafood sector was welcomed by numerous non-governmental organizations, including the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), the Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum, and the Human Rights and Development Foundation. Both GLJ-ILRF and the Human Rights and Development Foundation are members of the Seafood Working Group, a global coalition of 30 labor, human rights, and environmental organizations that have united to push for more aggressive action against countries with labor issues in their supply chains.
“Thailand’s downgraded status in the 2021 TIP Report reflects well-documented and concerning trends. This downgraded status is consistent with the U.S. government’s withdrawal of trade preferences based on extreme workers’ rights exploitation particularly in the fishing sector and in relation to migrant workers,” Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum Executive Director Jennifer Rosenbaum said in a statement on 2 July. Rosenbaum urged the Thai government to redouble its efforts to eliminate forced labor and labor trafficking concerns from its domestic industries.
HRDF Director Papop Siamhan said forced migrant labor remains a top concern of his organization in its observance of Thailand’s fishing sector.
“Hopefully, this very appropriate downgrade will push the Thai government to finally hold fishing vessel owners accountable for the abuses they are committing every day against migrant fishers,” Siamhan said.
Other major seafood-producing countries that were listed on the Tier 2 Watch List include Ireland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Major seafood producers on the Tier 3 List include China and Russia.
Taiwan retained a Tier 1 position in the latest U.S. State Department report, to the dismay of groups demanding the Taiwanese government do more against people trafficking and forced labor in its large fisheries sector.
The report states that Taiwan retained its Tier 1 status because its “authorities fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”
“[Taiwan’s] authorities continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on their anti-trafficking capacity,” according to the report.
However, the report found “authorities’ insufficient staffing and inspection protocols continued to impede efforts to identify, investigate, and prosecute forced labor on fishing vessels in Taiwan’s highly vulnerable distant-water fleet (DWF).”
The report noted Taiwan investigated and sentenced more traffickers to significant prison terms in 2020 and “continued to enhance victim identification protocols and labor inspection resources in the vulnerable maritime industries and recovered more illegally withheld wages from abusive fishing vessel operators than in 2019.”
Several NGOs have sought Taiwan be classified as a Tier 2 nation in order to more pressure on the country to act against labor abuses. In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor list placed Taiwan on its blacklist of countries whose exports into the U.S. are tainted by forced labor.
“Although Taiwan met the minimum standards and individual agencies established and disseminated improved victim identification methodologies, some official stakeholders continued to operate under disparate and often ineffective victim identification procedures, complicating some victims’ access to justice and protective care,” the U.S. Department of Labor said in its 2020 “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” report.
Additional reporting by Mark Godfrey
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