The 2014 Trafficking in Persons report released by the US government has downgraded Thailand and Malaysia to the lowest ranking of tier-3 due to forced labour concerns.
The downgrade could mean limited sanctions are applied to the tier-3 ranked countries, including blockages to financial aid from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The US president Barack Obama now has 90 days to decide whether to apply sanctions.
Following the Guardian's investigation uncovering slave labour links between Thai retailer CP Foods and its prawn farming, the report also found the Thai government has not done enough to fight human trafficking, particularly in the fishing industry.
The report found that, “Despite frequent media and NGO reports documenting instances of forced labour and debt bondage among foreign migrants in Thailand’s commercial sectors—including the fishing industry—the government demonstrated few efforts to address these trafficking crimes.”
Thai ambassador to Washington, Vijavat Isarabhakdi, said the Thai government would collaborate with the US to fight human trafficking, but that the report failed to recognise recent progress and efforts to combating trafficking, reports the Bangkok Post.
Malaysia was also downgraded to tier-3, the report citing the government’s failure to comply with the minimum standards to ensure foreign workers and refugees are protected from trafficking.
“Many migrant workers on agricultural plantations, at construction sites, in textile factories, and in homes as domestic workers throughout Malaysia are exploited and subjected to practices indicative of forced labour, such as restrictions on movement, deceit and fraud in wages, passport confiscation, and imposition of significant debts by recruitment agents or employers,” stated the report.
Malaysia’s ministry of foreign affairs released a statement urging the US to reassess its report, stating, “Malaysia has taken substantive measures in the past two years to improve the situation related to human trafficking and smuggling of migrants.”
Concerns for foreign workers in New Zealand and Australia
While Australia and New Zealand have kept tier-1 rankings, both nations have been criticised in the report for failing to do more to aid foreign workers from Asia and the Pacific Islands who are vulnerable to forced labour, including in the horticulture industry.
New Zealand immigration minister Michael Woodhouse hit back at the report, which criticised the government for not prosecuting any trafficking cases in eight years, and said that New Zealand investigated all cases of human trafficking and had new legislation in the works to combat forced labour, reports the NZ Herald.
The 2014 report ranked 188 nations and their efforts to fight global human trafficking, downgrading Thailand, Malaysia, Venezuela and the Gambia to tier-3, alongside North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran.