Photo courtesy ITF-Fishers Rights Network
This report contains the comments of the Seafood Working Group (SWG) concerning the Government of Thailand’s ranking in the United States Department of State’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. The TIP Report is a requirement of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). In 2021, the U.S. Department of State downgraded Thailand from its Tier 2 to Tier 2 Watchlist ranking because the 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.”
In 2022, the SWG finds that Thailand was appropriately downgraded in 2021 and recommends that the country remain at Tier 2 Watchlist. Our research shows that numerous factors determining the downgrade have not shifted and that the Government of Thailand continues to fall short of the TVPA’s minimum standards.
The Government of Thailand has not increased its efforts to combat the problem of forced labor among migrant workers in proportion to the scope of the problem. It has maintained policies that make migrant workers more vulnerable to labor trafficking, such as short-term, ad hoc migration management policies. The government has also continued to deny migrant workers the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining, making it very challenging for migrant workers to address labor rights abuses and prevent forced labor. In addition, the government has introduced draft legislation during the reporting period that would restrict the operations of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and have damaging impacts on migrant worker organizations and other organizations working to combat human trafficking.
Meanwhile, the Government of Thailand has continued to be ineffective in identifying victims and prosecuting labor trafficking cases in a victim-centric and trauma-informed manner. It has failed to conduct regular, effective labor inspections of fishing vessels and seafood processing factories, and it has still yet to issue guidelines for the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, B.E. 2551 (2008) (Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act). As a result, the government has not fully met the TVPA’s minimum standards, and there is not sufficient evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, especially with regards to labor trafficking.
In order for Thailand to be upgraded to the Tier 2 ranking, the SWG recommends that the Government of Thailand undertake the following reforms, taking concrete steps to do so by June 2022:
- Full rights to the freedom of association and collective bargaining for all workers. The government should ratify the ILO Conventions on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, 1948 (C87) and on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining (C98), as well as reform the Labor Relations Act (1975), so that all workers, including migrant workers, have the right to organize, form and lead labor unions, bargain collectively, and strike, with legal protection.
- Comprehensive migration management policy. The government should establish a long-term, comprehensive labor migration management program for migrants from neighboring Southeast Asian nations that provides avenues for migrant workers to work and reside in Thailand for longer periods of time to reflect the reality of their experiences. The program should be faster and affordable, have reduced administrative requirements, and provide greater flexibility in employment. It should remove private employment agencies from the process and effectively ban recruitment fees and related costs to migrants. Development of this program could be led by the committee on migration policy mentioned in the Royal Ordinance Concerning the Management of Foreign Migrant Workers (2017), which should have adequate representation from worker organizations and civil society.
- Withdrawal of the draft NGO Law. The government should withdraw the Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations (2021) and ensure any future laws and regulations pertaining to NGOs strictly adhere to international human rights law and standards.
- Victim-centered and trauma-informed prosecutions. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) should ensure that the prosecution proceedings are victim-centric and trauma-informed. Victims should be informed of the judicial process and of their rights and should be given the choice not to participate in investigations or court proceedings. The court should use victim impact statements to avoid unnecessary, repeated in-court testimony by the victim and develop specific safeguard policies for minor victims.
- Labor inspections. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) should establish regular, rigorous labor inspections, during which inspectors should engage directly with workers in a meaningful way, particularly in high-risk workplaces dominated by migrant workers. Worker organizations and civil society organizations should be involved in the inspection process. The MOL should conduct a comprehensive review of the challenges to effective inspection and work in collaboration with the MSDHS to create a protocol for other relevant agencies to join the case when there are indicators of forced labor present.
- Legal guidance on human trafficking and forced labor. The MSDHS and MOL should cooperate to clarify Sections 6 and 6/1 in the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act by issuing implementing guidelines to help law enforcement officials distinguish between the crimes of human trafficking and forced labor in order to support easier identification of these crimes.