Thailand prematurely upgraded in annual anti-trafficking report

Move unwarranted and could slow progress, according to international coalition

(Washington, DC) - The U.S. State Department has removed Thailand from the lowest ranking in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report in a move that an international coalition of human rights, labor and environmental organizations said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would, “undermine international efforts to significantly and permanently improve working conditions among migrant workers in Thailand.” Thailand had been designated as Tier 3 on the annual report for its failure to take adequate measures to combat human trafficking. It was upgraded one ranking to the Tier 2 Watch List in the 2016 report released today.

“We are very disappointed at this decision, which does not, in our view, accurately assess the situation on the ground,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, one of the organizations that signed the letter. “Migrant workers are still one of the most vulnerable groups in the country to human trafficking, and Thailand has not shown any indication that it intends to allow migrant workers greater access to fundamental rights that would protect them from exploitation.”

Throughout 2015, reports continued to emerge of pervasive conditions of debt bondage and forced labor among the migrant workers that make up the majority of the workforce in Thailand’s export-driven economy, including in canned chicken, fruit processing, rubber, infant formula, and hospitality. The seafood industry continued to be a highly-publicized sector in which human trafficking was common, including an expose by the Associated Press that won a Pulitzer Prize in April 2016. Thailand failed to make any progress on one of the most critical drivers of human trafficking: an informal and exploitative network of labor brokers who funnel migrant workers from neighboring countries into low-paying jobs and lock them into debt with high fees.  

Migrant workers are limited in their ability to report such abuse by endemic police corruption, ineffective labor inspections, and collusion between industry and local officials. In one recent example, a migrant worker was detained for “stealing” her own timecard to prove to a worker organization that she had been working illegally high hours for illegally low wages.

For more information on Thailand’s move in the TIP Report, and recommendations on how Thailand can improve its anti-trafficking efforts, please see the full letter to Secretary Kerry and comments submitted to the U.S. Department of State in advance of this year’s report.