US downgrades Thailand to lowest ranking on human trafficking 

  • Thailand’s ranking inTrafficking in Persons Report 2014
The US State Department has downgraded Thailand to a Tier 3 ranking on its 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released Friday.

This is the lowest ranking out of four tiers when including the Tier 2 Watch List — the second to lowest ranking, which Thailand has occupied for three years.

Thailand's ranking inTrafficking in Persons Report 2014

Thailand’s ranking in Trafficking in Persons Report 2014

The nation joins Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia — among 21 nations in total listed Tier 3 this year — in the ranking.

The TIP report does not contain any mechanism to impose trade barriers, and in fact, it states that any US opposition to assistance governments may face excludes trade-related assistance.

The consequences, however, could affect lending in the country. The US could decide to put pressure on international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, not to lend to Thailand.

This could also impact the seafood industry, considering the World Bank does have involvement in Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs) there.

Human trafficking includes sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, forced labour, bonded labour, involuntary domestic servitude and debt bondage.

Being downgraded to Tier 3, there will surely be some impact on the fishing sector,  said president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association (TFFA) Panisuan Jamnarnwej.

He said the association members’ business would be affected, adding however each company in the TFFA would be able to adjust themselves by, for instance, searching for other markets.

The TIP report reveals the Thai government blatantly ignored some instances of human trafficking and even ventured to punish those that tried to bring them to light.

After reports surfaced in Thai media of trafficking-related complicity by Thai civilian and navy personnel in crimes involving the exploitation of Rohingya asylum seekers from Burma and Bangladesh, the Thai navy “claimed these reports were false and responded by filing criminal defamation charges against two journalists in Thailand for re-printing these reports”.

In another instance, the government let a Thai accomplice in forced labor effort go with a sentence of merely three months, having charged him for providing shelter to undocumented immigran  immigrants. The full extent of his crime was much more severe than that, considering he had held 14 victims in confinement. Meanwhile, the Burmese men he had conspired with received 30 years in prison.

The TIP report also repeats claims — made by the UK Guardian newspapers  – that the Thai government has been complicit in human trafficking in the fishing industry.

Thai officials allegedly subjected Rohingya asylum seekers, an ethnic group fleeing persecution, to forced labour in Thailand’s commercial fishing sector; yet the government reported no investigations, persecutions or convictions of public officials or private individuals on the matter, the TIP report said.

Thailand’s downgrade is classified as “automatic”, since it is required for any country that is on the Tier 2 Watch list, but it could have been avoided if the country had demonstrated “significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance” with the Trafficking Victim Protections Act (TVPA) minimum standards, which require governments to vigorously investigate and prosecute severe forms of human trafficking, as well as comply with a long and detailed list of other minimum measures needed to prevent human rights atrocities, such as identifying ways to prevent participation in international sex tourism.

But the report does give Thailand some credit for improvement, despite the lower rating this year.

“The government of Thailand improved its anti-trafficking data collection,” the TIP report said. “It reported convicting 225 traffickers under the 2008 anti-trafficking law and related statutes in 2013.”

However, this was far from sufficient to raise Thailand to a Tier 2 status, which would have meant it was not meeting the TVPA minimum requirements but was making “significant efforts” to do so.

Human trafficking remains a big economic sector in Thailand, particularly in Thailand’s seafood industry. Approximately 17% of surveyed fishermen, who primarily worked on short haul vessels spending less than one month at sea, experienced forced labour conditions, often due to threats of financial penalty including not being fully remunerated for work already performed.

“…Governments of countries on Tier 3 may be subject to certain restrictions on bilateral assistance, whereby the US government may withhold or withdraw non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance,” the TIP report states. This would take effect Oct. 1