Friends Don’t Let Friends Abet Human Trafficking

The State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, which came out on Friday, bumped several countries into its lowest tier, including Thailand:

Thailand, Malaysia, and Venezuela’s status was automatically downgraded this year because they have been on a State Department human trafficking watch list for over four years and have not improved. Thailand is among the worst offenders, according to the State Department. … Though the Thai government reportedly paid a U.S. public relations firm $51,000 a month to help it boost its rating on the State Department report, the U.S. downgraded the country to the bottom tier, where it stands alongside 23 others including North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, Libya and Cuba. The 23 countries that were placed in the report’s lowest tier could face U.S. government sanctions on non-humanitarian, non-trade-related aid.

Joshua Kurlantzick is cheered that the Thai PR campaign failed:

[It’s] a particularly tough blow at a time when Thailand has just suffered a military coup and is facing penalties for the coup not only from the United States but also from Europe, Australia, and many other countries. Besides Thailand, other countries downgraded in the new report also had lobbied the administration hard, stressing not only that they were (allegedly) taking action against trafficking but also emphasizing their increasingly warm bilateral ties with the United States. Qatar, an important American partner which received a ranking slightly above that of Thailand, had pushed to be given a higher rating. This time, to its credit, the White House was not swayed.

For example, Thailand surely deserves to be placed among the Tier 3 nations, and should have been downgraded to Tier 3 years ago. In just the past year, the Thai navy has been implicated in the trafficking and outright murder of refugees fleeing Myanmar, Thailand’s seafood industry has been the subject of damning reports from nonprofit organizations and journalists revealing outright slavery in the industry, and in just the past two weeks over 100,000 Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand, many of whom worked under slave-like conditions, have fled the country in panic, fearing that the junta is going to arbitrarily detain and abuse them.

Keating highlights another angle:

The report is also worth considering in light of the World Cup. It specifically highlights the role that trafficked labor can play in the preparations for mega-events like the World Cup and the Olympics as well as the heightened risk of sex trafficking during the events themselves. Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host whose manipulative practices toward foreign laborers have recently become a topic of international interest, was downgraded this year to the “tier 2 watch list,” the second-lowest designation. Russia, the 2018 host, was downgraded to Tier 3 last year.