Malaysia, Thailand hit rock bottom in human trafficking report

June 20 , 2014

The U.S. Department of State has downgraded four countries to the lowest tier in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2014 released today.

Malaysia, Thailand, Venezuela and The Gambia were all dropped to tier three, which means their governments do not fully comply with Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

The assessment puts these nations on the same level as North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Syria, Russia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe when it comes to modern slavery and attempts to diminish its presence.

Forced labor onto farms was a common theme for the two new South East Asian countries in the category, which are well known for their agricultural export industries.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released the report today.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released the report today.

The majority of discussion about Thailand was centered on sex trafficking and forced labor in the fishing industry, while the Malaysian country narrative specifically mentioned forced labor on palm oil plantations, as well as farms in general.

"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 labor, such as restrictions on movement, deceit and fraud in wages, passport confiscation, and imposition of significant debts by recruitment agents or employers," the report said.

The report highlighted the International Labor Organization's (ILO) description of agriculture as one of the world's most hazardous employment sectors.

"Over the past fourteen years, the TIP Report has documented how people from all parts of the world are victims of sex trafficking and forced labor in nearly every sector of the economy. While such abuses may seem far away, they are—in reality—very much a part of our daily lives," staff from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said in a closing note for the report.

"Many of our fruits and vegetables, clothes, electronics, and other consumer goods are products of supply chains in which exploitation is used to gain a competitive advantage in the cost of production. Intermediaries profit from recruitment fees paid to secure employment, and employers profit from a market in which labor costs are kept artificially low."

In a letter for the report, Secretary of State John Kerry said the TIP offered a roadmap for confronting the "scourge of trafficking".

"We each have a responsibility to make this horrific and all-too-common crime a lot less common. And our work with victims is the key that will open the door to real change—not just on behalf of the more than 44,000 survivors who have been identified in the past year, but also for the more than 20 million victims of trafficking who have not," he said.

The report said a tier three status meant a country was subject to certain restrictions on bilateral assistance, whereby the U.S. Government could withdraw non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.

On a more positive note, major fruit exporter Chile was upgraded from tier two to tier one status, which means the Latin American country fully complies with TVPA minimum standards, putting it in the same ranking as a range of European countries, Israel, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan.