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
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
|Score||Survivors are supported||Criminal justice||Coordination and accountability||Attitudes, social systems and institutions||Business and government|
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
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.
|Slavery policy||Human rights||State stability||Discrimination||Development|
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.
- 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).
- 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
See where Thailand ranks in Asia Pacific