US report labels China worst offender in human trafficking and forced labor

Published on
June 29, 2017

The U.S. State Department has identified China as among the world’s worst countries for human trafficking and forced labor in its 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released on Tuesday, 27 June by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The report sorts countries into three groups – Tier 1, which signifies compliance with minimum U.S. standards; Tier 2, which indicates the country is making significant efforts at compliance; and Tier 3, those not in compliance and making no effort to improve. The report also lists a Tier 2 Watch List, a list of nations deserving of special scrutiny. A Tier 3 rating can result in sanctions limiting access to U.S. and international aid, but such action is rarely taken and the annual list is released primarily to increase public awareness of the problem of human trafficking globally, according to Reuters.

China was listed as a Tier 3 country in 2013 but was moved onto the Tier 2 Watch list for the past three years. In the new report, China was lowered back onto the Tier 3 list.

"China was downgraded to Tier 3 status in this year's report in part because it has not taken serious steps to end its own complicity in trafficking, including forced laborers from North Korea that are located in China," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said as he presented the report.

Myanmar and Iraq, on the other hand, rose in the rankings from a Tier 3 country onto the Tier 2 Watch List. According to Reuters, Tillerson disregarded recommendations of State Department experts, senior U.S. diplomats and the State Department's legal office to keep those two countries on the Tier 3 list. In his press conference, Tillerson did not directly address the reports that he had influenced where countries appeared on the list, but said he sought to improve the United States’ partnership with countries around the world in order to better fight human trafficking.

“Because human trafficking is global in scope, international partners are essential to success,” Tillerson said. “That’s why the State Department will continue to establish positive partnerships with governments, civil society, law enforcement groups, and survivors to provide help for those who need our support.”

Last year, Thailand was elevated from the Tier 3 list to the Tier 2 Watch List, and it maintained that ranking in this year’s report. That decision was criticized by the International Labor Rights Forum.

“Despite some positive changes in the legal framework in Thailand, progress in outcomes continues to lag,” ILRF Executive Director Judy Gearhart said in a press release. “Unfortunately in 2016, Thailand was a country in which workers were prosecuted for reporting human trafficking to a Thai-government body and traffickers were allowed to go free because of flawed interpretations of what forced labor is. Until migrant workers are able to secure justice when they are exploited, Thailand belongs on the lowest ranking of the TIP Report.”

ILRF said in its release that despite legal reforms in Thailand, “reality on the ground has changed little for migrant workers,” with migrant workers still vulnerable to human trafficking, high work recruitment fees, limited freedom of movement, and degrading and illegal working conditions prevalent throughout many of the country’s industries, including the seafood sector.

“The enforcement promises Thailand has made have not been realized, and the Thai government actively represses migrant workers or their advocates who attempt to empower migrant workers as a population,” the ILRF said. “The U.S. Department of State should make its rankings in the TIP Report based on outcomes, not intent, which means Thailand should be at the lowest tier until it can demonstrate a decrease in migrant workers’ vulnerability to human trafficking.”

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