March 11, 2020 / 12:00 AM / 18 days ago

U.S. urged to downgrade Thailand in annual human trafficking report

BANGKOK, March 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The U.S. State Department should downgrade Thailand in its annual report on human trafficking, rights groups said on Wednesday, citing the Southeast Asian nation’s lack of progress in protecting fishing and garment workers.

Thailand had failed to provide sufficient evidence of increased efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking from the previous year, according to the Thai Seafood Working Group (SWG), a coalition of almost 60 labour, human rights and green groups working to stop forced labour in the Thai seafood industry.

“Thailand continues be a country where workers are abused and exploited,” said Esmeralda Lopez, a director at the Washington-based International Labour Rights Forum, an advocacy group and SWG member.

“This is particularly the case in the fishing and garment sectors.”

Over the last four years, Thailand has sought to clean up its multi-billion dollar fishing industry after investigations revealed widespread abuses and the European Union threatened to ban imports from the country.

Last year, Thailand was ranked as a Tier 2 country - above the lowest ranking of Tier 3 - in the U.S. State Department’s closely watched Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which noted that the country was making significant efforts to combat the crime.

But in a separate report, the SWG called on the U.S. to place Thailand on its Tier 2 Watch List, a category denoting nations that have not fully met the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and deserve special scrutiny.

The Thai government had made no progress in key areas, including the number of forced labour cases, labour inspections, assisting potential victims of trafficking, as well as addressing widespread debt bondage and the withholding of workers’ travel documents, the report said.

The government had failed to protect workers and labour rights defenders who report abuse from retaliation, while migrant workers still do not have the legal right to organise and bargain collectively for better conditions, it added.

Thailand’s anti-trafficking efforts improved significantly last year, especially in the fishing sector, said police lieutenant general Jaruvat Vaisaya, the country’s top anti-trafficking cop.

“Almost no trafficking exists in the fishing sector and we have continuously arrested (people who have exploited women),” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Trial proceedings have become shorter and the amount of compensation (for victims) has increased.”

A report published by the International Labour Organisation on Tuesday found that changes in working conditions in Thailand’s fishing and seafood industry are moving in the right direction but serious abuses persist.

Almost 10% of the 470 Thai, Burmese and Cambodian fishing and seafood workers surveyed said that they had been victims of forced labour, the report said.

“These findings would indicate that tens of thousands of workers in Thai fishing and processing are working in forced labour conditions. This is unacceptable,” ILO researchers said in the report. (Reporting by Nanchanok Wongsamuth @nanchanokw; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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