June 20, 2014 00:00
By Piyanut Tumnukasetchai
Thailand fears downgrade in human trafficking report could draw US sanctions
Thailand awaits with bated breath the release today for the 2014 “Trafficking in Persons” (TIP) Report by US Secretary of State John Kerry, with the threat of a downgrade over its poor practices and inadequate efforts to eliminate human trafficking, which would bring the risk of sanctions.
As required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the TIP Report assesses governmental efforts around the world to combat modern slavery, according to the US Department of State.
Thailand is currently on the Tier 2 Watch List, the second-lowest rank, and could fall further if the US sees no improvement or progress in Thai efforts to eliminate human trafficking. Dropping to Tier 3 status could theoretically bring the threat of US sanctions.
The country has escaped from being downgraded to Tier 3 for four years and officials in the Foreign and Justice ministries are confident that it will survive another year.
Justice Ministry deputy permanent secretary Chanchao Chaiyanukij said Thai law enforcement on human trafficking had improved.
“We have reports on prosecution of human traffickers and we showed the US that we have put in a lot of effort to fight trafficking,” he said. “I think we will escape from sanctions, and be upgraded.”
There were 627 cases concerning human trafficking under prosecution. The court has sentenced 225 traffickers and many of them were jailed for more than two years, according to statistics of the Department of Special Investigation.
The authorities have explained to the US the improvement in manufacturing processes where Washington sees heavy use of child and forced labour, Chanchao said.
However, there were worries that a recent media report about the use of forced labour by Charoen Pokphand Foods in its production chain might be taken into consideration in the report.
The Thai treatment of Rohingya boat refugees is also problematic. Thai officials were accused of trading the refugees to traffickers and media reports on this matter were heavily discussed in the US Congress recently during the consideration of the draft TIP Report.
A status downgrade and sanctions would affect many sectors of the economy, notably the labour-intensive fishery and food industries.
Somsak Paneetatyasai, president of the Thai Shrimp Association, said Thai shrimp farmers and enterprises would be closely monitoring the report today. If Thailand were downgraded, exports could be affected, he said.
He pointed out that if Thailand were moved to Tier 3, the US would boycott Thai products, mainly fishery products. Some private companies are already planning a worst-case scenario by negotiating with trading partners to continue their businesses.
Poj Aramwattananont, president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association, said manufacturers were hoping that the US would not downgrade Thailand’s status, as the country has put in significant efforts to get rid off illegal labour in many industries.
He urged the US to evaluate the labour situation without political prejudice. Poj added that if Thailand were downgraded, it would immediately affect the country’s image among other countries, but for exports many factors could be considered in the long run.