Prevalence

There are an estimated 475,300 people in modern slavery in Thailand – this is equivalent to 0.7093% of the entire population

Thailand is a destination country for significant numbers of labour migrants from neighbouring Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar. While precise estimates are not available, it is possible Thailand has as many as three million migrant workers, so called three Ds (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) jobs.1  Within this context, men, women and children have been subjected to forced labour and sexual exploitation in industries including, the sex industry, forced begging, domestic work, fishing, manufacturing, and agricultural industries.2

Products known to be produced using modern slavery 3

FishGarmentsShrimp

The US$7 billion Thai fishing industry4 has been under intense scrutiny with credible reports of young men and boys enduring brutal treatment that includes severe and frequent physical abuse and threats, excessive work hours, and long periods at sea.5  Victims have reported witnessing captains physically abuse, murder, or abandon workers who fall overboard.6  In an ILO survey of almost 600 fishers employed on Thai boats fishing in Thai and international waters, 16.9 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as being unable to leave their work due to threat of penalty, that is, they are in forced labour. Within the survey sample, ten percent of fishers reported having been severely beaten on board, although not necessarily by their current employer.7

Thailand’s continued growth in the travel and tourism industry creates a demand for tourist experiences with children, which drives exploitative trends such as ‘orphanage tourism’,8 street begging, street vending, and giving guided tours and street performances in popular tourist destinations. Such concerning practices also facilitate unrestricted access to these vulnerable children by travelling child sex offenders.9

Women and children, primarily girls, can be forced to work for long hours, frequently with no rest days, in domestic servitude. Victims report being physically and sexually abused, confined within the home, and having their pay and their identification documents withheld by employers.10

Skilled Thai migrants have typically migrated to stronger economies, such as the United States, Europe, East Asia, and Australia, although numbers leaving for work has decreased over recent years due to the global economic crisis11 and increased work opportunities in Thailand. Official numbers from the Ministry of Labour, Office for Thai Workers Going Overseas recorded a total of 143,101 Thai citizens moving abroad for work in 2012, however, this does not record those who migrate via irregular channels.12  The majority (around 84 percent) of overseas Thai workers are men, working in construction, agriculture and the manufacturing industry.13  Female overseas workers tend to find employment in private households, or in the entertainment or service sectors.14  According to World Bank data, approximately $US5.69 billion in personal remittances comprised around 1.5 percent of Thailand’s $US387 billion Gross Domestic Product in 2013.15  Thai migrant workers pay significant fees for the migration and recruitment processes (sometimes up to a year’s wages), and they are vulnerable to exploitation by recruiters and/or employers. In the places where it is available, assistance for exploited workers can be difficult to access in unfamiliar settings.16

Government response

ScoreSurvivors are supportedCriminal justiceCoordination and accountabilityAttitudes, social systems and institutionsBusiness and government
B5061.958.3500

In October 2013, the Thai Government made positive progress by ratifying a key international convention on modern slavery, the UN Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Protocol. However, the Government’s limited action to address all forms of modern slavery resulted in the country’s downgrading to Tier three – the worst ranking – in the annual US Government Trafficking in Persons report.17

Despite the rhetoric of the National Policy Strategies and Measures to Prevent and Suppress Trafficking in Persons (2011-2016), the Government’s efforts remain disconnected to the reality on the ground. The majority of the government’s efforts focus on addressing the sexual exploitation of women and children, rather than labour exploitation. In 2013, of the 674 human trafficking cases uncovered in 2013, 520 involved sexual exploitation and only 80 referred to labour exploitation.18  The government’s refusal to recognise Rohingya, an ethnic group from Myanmar vulnerable to labour exploitation, and offer them much needed protection, is indicative of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.

While Thailand displays a relatively strong criminal justice response, anti-trafficking laws limit safeguards for migrant workers. Notably, laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining do not cover foreign workers.19  Despite pressure to protect workers from forced labour in the fishing industry, the Ministry of Labour is yet to to amend Ministerial Regulation Ten, which exempts fishing boats with less than 20 crew members, or out of Thai waters for more than a calendar year, from most components of the Labour Protection Act.20  Again, while strong on paper, Thailand’s anti-corruption laws are not properly enforced. Officials on both sides of the borders with Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR are complicit in smuggling undocumented migrants, some of whom become trafficking victims.21  The transition period from the military coup of May 2014 back to democracy, which will take at least 15 months,22 may further stall the government response to modern slavery.

Vulnerability

Slavery policyHuman rightsState stabilityDiscriminationDevelopment
57.66044.658.640

Workers who use irregular channels of migration into Thailand are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, with many victims in Thailand originating from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar in particular, who are attracted by  Thailand’s relatively strong economy.23  As a relatively wealthy country in the GMS, Thailand appeals to residents of neighbouring countries who wish to improve their lifestyles and are willing to relocate.24  However, employment brokers on both sides of the border—even through the legal immigration process—can knowingly or unwittingly place migrants in the hands of exploitative employers.

A rumoured military crackdown on undocumented workers in 2014 led to the recent mass exodus of some 200,000 Cambodians from Thailand.25  The crackdown, in theory, aims to thwart illegal workers, forced labour and human trafficking,26 however it arguably creates an enabling environment of abuse and potential re-trafficking. Within Thailand, discriminated ethnic minorities, particularly in the north, are not always granted citizenship, and can be exposed to exploitation as they have fewer education opportunities, have limited freedom of movement without approval from authorities and are often forced to work in informal sectors.27

Recommendations

Government

  • Provide legal status for minority groups and stateless persons in Thailand.
  • Reform the employment-based visas so migrant workers can change employers without losing legal status and without having to obtain their first employer’s permission.
  • Investigate cases of labour exploitation in the fishing industry and actively prosecute Thai labour brokers and officials found complicit in human trafficking for forced labour.
  • Develop child education, health and protection systems that include appropriate services and treatment of migrant children (both those accompanied or unaccompanied by their families).

Business

  • Businesses importing Thai seafood products, including sub-contractors multiple tiers deep, should conduct in-depth supply chain mapping exercises to identify product origin.
  • Conduct social audits on suppliers identified as high risk.
  • Travel and tourism businesses should adopt child safe tourism policies.
“I was very lucky; when I escaped the fishing boat I had the phone number of the Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN) who helped me get away and make a new start… some of these crew members had been on this boat for over six years and were owed more than $US 18,000 (600,000 baht). I organised the crew to hold the boat from leaving the port until LPN could arrive to help represent them against the captain and get their money.”
Account contributed by Arun, former Thai fishing slave from Myanmar
Personal communication

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Footnotes

  1. International Labour Organization (ILO), Regulating Recruitment of Migrant Workers: An Assessment of Complaint Mechanisms in Thailand, (ILO, 2013), accessed 19/10/14: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro-bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_226498.pdf
  2. SLAVERY AT SEA: The Continued Plight of Trafficked Migrants in Thailand’s Fishing Industry, (Environmental Justice Foundation, 2014), p. 5, accessed 17/10/14: http://ejfoundation.org/sites/default/files/public/EJF_Slavery-at-Sea_report_2014_web-ok.pdf
  3. For Fish, Garments & Shrimp see Bureau of International Labor Affair, List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor – 2013, Thailand, (United States Department of Labor, 2014), accessed 05/08/14: http://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/
  4. Caught at Sea: Forced Labour and Trafficking in Fisheries, (International Labour Organization, Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour, 2013), pp.15, 19 – 20, accessed 17/10/14: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—declaration/documents/publication/wcms_214472.pdf
  5. Exploitation of Cambodian Men at Sea, (The United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, 2009), p.5, accessed 15/08/14: http://www.no-trafficking.org/reports_docs/siren/siren_cb3.pdf
  6. Employment Practices and working conditions in Thailand’s fishing sector, (International Labour Organization, 2014), accessed 15/07/14: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro-bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_220596.pdf
  7. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Thailand Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2014), p. 372, accessed 20/10/14: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226849.pdf
  8. Where tourists are able to visit children living or studying in institutional care for a fee. Such unrestricted visits to see highly vulnerable children in institutional care are detrimental to their social, physical and psychological health. 
  9. Christine Beddoe, Return to Sender: British child sex offenders abroad – why more must be done, (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes [ECPAT UK], 2008), p.9, accessed 30/07/14: http://www.ecpat.org.uk/sites/default/files/return_to_sender_2008.pdf
  10. Vachararutai (Jan) Boontinand, Domestic workers in Thailand: their situation, challenges and the way forward, (International Labour Organization, 2010), pp. 18-21, accessed 20/10/14: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro-bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_120274.pdf
  11. Jerrold W. Huguet, and Aphichat Chamratrithirong, eds., Thailand Migration Report 2011 – Migration for development in Thailand: Overview and tools for Policymakers, (International Labour Organization, 2011), p.54, accessed 30/07/14: http://publications.iom.int/bookstore/free/TMR_2011.pdf
  12. Note: This figure includes both new deployments and contract renewal, labelled “re-entry”. “Number of Thai workers deployed, by destination”, Ministry of Labour, Office for Thai Workers Going Overseas, 2012, accessed through personal communication.
  13. Jerrold W. Huguet, and Aphichat Chamratrithirong, eds., Thailand Migration Report 2011 – Migration for development in Thailand: Overview and tools for Policymakers, (International Labour Organization, 2011), pp. 39, accessed 30/07/14: http://publications.iom.int/bookstore/free/TMR_2011.pdf
  14. As above
  15. “Personal remittances, received (current US$) – Thailand 2013”, World Bank, accessed 30/07/14: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/BX.TRF.PWKR.CD.DT/countries/TH?display=default
  16. Jerrold W. Huguet, and Aphichat Chamratrithirong, eds., Thailand Migration Report 2011 – Migration for development in Thailand: Overview and tools for Policymakers, (International Labour Organization, 2011), pp. 39-48, accessed 05/08/14: http://publications.iom.int/bookstore/free/TMR_2011.pdf
  17. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Thailand Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2014), pp. 372-376, accessed 08/06/14: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226849.pdf
  18. Field source
  19. Internationally Recognised Core Labour Standards in Thailand, (International Trade Union Confederation, 2011), p. 2, accessed 21/10/14: http://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/tpr_thailand_final.pdf
  20. Field source
  21. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Thailand Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2014), pp. 372-376, accessed 08/06/14: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226849.pdf
  22. Damien Kingsbury, “Thailand’s Roadmap to Democracy filled with potholes and detours”, Deakin Speaking, June 6, 2014, accessed 21/10/14: http://communities.deakin.edu.au/deakin-speaking/node/639
  23. Transnational Organised Crime in East Asia and the Pacific, (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2013), p.8, accessed 14/08/14: http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/Studies/TOCTA_EAP_web.pdf
  24. As above
  25. ‘The exodus’, The Economist, June 21, 2014: http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21604585-rumours-drive-hundreds-thousands-cambodians-back-home-exodus
  26. Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol and Warangkana Chomchuen, ‘Thai Military Moves to Curb Illegal Migrant Labor as Cambodian Workers Flee’, The Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2014: http://online.wsj.com/articles/thai-military-moves-to-curb-illegal-migrant-labor-as-cambodian-workers-flee-1403017518
  27. World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, “Highland Ethnic Groups: Thailand”, Minority Rights Group International, last modified 2005, accessed 21/10/14: http://www.minorityrights.org/5608/thailand/highland-ethnic-groups.html; see also “Highland Citizenship and Birth Registration Project”, UNESCO Bangkok, last modified unknown, accessed 21/10/14: http://www.unescobkk.org/culture/diversity/trafficking-hiv/projects/highland-citizenship-and-birth-registration-project/

Other reports

Country briefs

View detailed country briefs that describe the nature of problem, government responses, and action needed to address modern slavery in 32 countries.

Country results

View the prevalence, vulnerability and government response data of each country.

Regional profiles

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Survivors are identified, supported to exit and remain out of modern slavery
Criminal justice mechanisms address modern slavery
Coordination and accountability mechanisms for the central government are in place
Attitudes, social systems and institutions that enable modern slavery are addressed
Businesses and governments through their public procurement stop sourcing goods and services that use modern slavery

Government response rating: AAA

Numerical range: 59 to 64

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of AAA are as follows:
The government has an implemented an effective and comprehensive response to all forms of modern slavery, with effective emergency and long-term reintegration victim support services, a strong criminal justice framework, high levels of coordination and collaboration, measures to address all forms of vulnerability, and strong government procurement policies and legislation to ensure that slavery is not present in business supply chains. There is no evidence of criminalisation or deportation of victims.

Government response rating: AA

Numerical range: 53 to 58

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of AA are as follows:
The government has implemented a comprehensive response to most forms of modern slavery, with strong victim support services, a robust criminal justice framework, demonstrated coordination and collaboration, measures to address vulnerability, and government procurement guidelines and/or supply chain policies or legislation to ensure that slavery is not present in business supply chains.

Government response rating: A

Numerical range: 47 to 52

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of A are as follows:
The government has implemented key components of a holistic response to some forms of modern slavery, with strong victim support services, a strong criminal justice framework, demonstrated coordination and collaboration, measures to address vulnerability, and may have taken action to ensure that government procurement policies do not encourage slavery.

Government response rating: BBB

Numerical range: 41 to 46

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of BBB are as follows:
The government has implemented key components of a holistic response to modern slavery, with victim support services, a strong criminal justice response, evidence of coordination and collaboration, and protections in place for vulnerable populations. Governments may be beginning to address slavery in supply chains of government procurement, or of businesses operating within their territory. There may be evidence that some government policies and practices may criminalise and/or cause victims to be deported.

Government response rating: BB

Numerical range: 35 to 40

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of BB are as follows:
The government has introduced a response to modern slavery, which includes short term victim support services, a criminal justice framework that criminalises some forms of modern slavery, a body to coordinate the response, and protections for those vulnerable to modern slavery.There may be evidence that some government policies and practices may criminalise and/or cause victims to be deported, and/or facilitate slavery.

Government response rating: B

Numerical range: 29 to 34

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of B are as follows:
The government has introduced a response to modern slavery, with limited victim support services, a criminal justice framework that criminalises some forms of modern slavery, (or has recently amended inadequate legislation and policies), a body or mechanisms that coordinate the response, and has policies that provide some protection for those vulnerable to modern slavery. There is evidence that some government policies and practices may criminalise and/or deport victims, and/or facilitate slavery. Services may be provided by International Organisations (IOs)/ NGOs with international funding, sometimes with government monetary or in-kind support.

Government response rating: CCC

Numerical range: 23 to 28

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of CCC are as follows:
The government has a response to modern slavery, with limited victim support services, a criminal justice framework that criminalises some forms of modern slavery, has a national action plan and/or national coordination body, and has policies that provide some protections for those vulnerable to modern slavery. There is evidence that some government policies and practices may criminalise and/or deport victims, and/ or facilitate slavery. Services may be largely provided by IOs/NGOs with international funding, with limited government funding or in-kind support.

Government response rating: CC

Numerical range: 17 to 22

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of CC are as follows:
The government has a limited response to modern slavery, with largely basic victim support services, a limited criminal justice framework, limited coordination or collaboration mechanism, and few protections for those vulnerable to modern slavery.There may be evidence that some government policies and practices facilitate slavery. Services are largely provided by IOs/NGOs with limited government funding or in-kind support.

Government response rating: C

Numerical range: 11 to 16

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of C are as follows:
The government response to modern slavery is inadequate, with limited and/or few victim support services, a weak criminal justice framework, weak coordination or collaboration, while little is being done to address vulnerability.There are government practices and policies that facilitate slavery. Services, where available, are largely provided by IOs/NGOs with little government funding or in-kind support.

Government response rating: D

Numerical range: <0 to 10

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of D are as follows:
The government has a wholly inadequate response to modern slavery, and/ or there is evidence of government sanctioned modern slavery. However, countries in this category may be experiencing high levels of poverty and internal conflict that may prevent, or hinder a response to modern slavery.

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