Thailand's record on fighting human trafficking has come under criticism, leading some to fear it could be downgraded to Tier 3 in the US annual human trafficking report due out Friday, alongside Iran and Syria.
Thailand's Ambassador to the United States Vijavat Isarabhakdi said "Thailand's demonstrated awareness, cooperation and progress in combating human trafficking in 2013 clearly exceeds the US State Department's criteria for an upgrade on the 2014 TIP Report.
The Foreign Ministry defended its decision by saying that before supporting the adoption of "any specific instrument, Thailand has to seriously consider her own readiness to implement such an instrument, in conformity with relevant Thai laws.
"The reaction from NGOs and rights groups was harsh, with the executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation calling the decision an "absolute disgrace and one that brings further shame onto an already embattled government."
The country was also in the crosshairs of a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper last week that said Thailand's shrimp farmers were buying feed made from fish caught using forced labour. The Guardian report said "large numbers of men (are) bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand.
"Many were illegal migrants from neighbouring countries hoping for jobs in plantations or factories, but who stumbled into the clutches of brokers who sold them to the boat operators, it said.
Human Rights Watch wrote to US Secretary of State John Kerry recommending that Thailand be downgraded to Tier 3.
"The Government of Thailand does not meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, nor is it taking real steps to meet those standards," the group said in an open letter. HRW cited irregularities within the seafood industry in Thailand as well as the detention and reported trafficking of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar by Thai security forces as a basis for its recommendation. If Thailand is downgraded to the lowest tier it may face economic sanctions and the withdrawal of aid funds. Multinational companies will also be encouraged to stop trading in industries where forced labour may play a role.