Ex-Us envoy pushes for lowest ranking as 'many of the problems still remain'
The US State Department’s former ambassador for trafficking in persons has urged Washington to maintain Thailand’s bottom-of-the-pile tier-three ranking in its upcoming Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.
In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Wednesday, Mark Lagon said: “I urge the US government to sustain a tier-three ranking should the government of Thailand not show strong will to take corrective action to address human trafficking in short order.”
Thailand remained to a large extent a source, a transit point and a destination country for trafficking, he added.
“Many of the problems I highlighted in my testimony last year remain,” he said.
The problems are defective mechanisms for identifying victims among vulnerable populations; lax investigations; not enough prosecutions and convictions of human-trafficking perpetrators; inadequate regulations concerning labour brokers and recruitment fees paid by migrant workers; and official complicity in the cross-border smuggling of undocumented migrants, he told the congressional panel.
Lagon, who is now the president of Freedom House, an independent freedom watchdog, said migrants from Thailand’s neighbouring countries working in factories and on Thai fishing trawlers were the most vulnerable to trafficking.
As has been reported for years, the Thai fishing industry is rife with forced labour, both on the high seas and within seafood processing and packing plants, he said.
“I visited one such facility in Samut Sakhon back in 2007.
“The problem is so egregious that the US Department of Labour has officially highlighted Thai seafood as a tainted commodity,” he said.
“Yet, it remains to be seen whether the US government will impose the sanctions it is authorised to deploy, which would bar Thai seafood from US markets due to forced labour.”
Thailand was downgraded to the lowest status in the TIP report last year, with the new report expected to be released in June.
The military government under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who took power following the military coup last May, is struggling to have the country’s rating improved.
The government put combating human trafficking on the national agenda and submitted a report to update Washington on its efforts to tackle the problem.
However Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, a US-based group that works to prevent and remedy human rights violations, told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that Thailand prosecuted fewer human traffickers and complicit authorities in 2014 than it did in 2013, despite a greater number of people being trafficked in the country over the past year.
In 2013, he said Thailand identified 1,020 survivors of trafficking, prosecuted 386 cases, and convicted 225 persons.
But in 2014, Thailand claimed to have identified just 595 survivors of human trafficking, prosecuted 115 cases, and convicted 104 people, he said.